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Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, earlier today, the President spoke to the Chamber of Commerce in what some have described as an effort to make nice with the business community. I will leave others to analyze what the speech means politically. The first concern of the American people is what it will mean for the economy. As I have said before, what the President says matters a lot less than what he does.

So we will just have to wait and see whether the administration's actions support its rhetoric. And it is in that spirit that I would like to suggest one thing the President could do immediately, with Republican support, to show he is serious about jobs and the economy. He could work with us to pass free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama that have been languishing for years now.

We welcome the President's support for the South Korea Free Trade Agreement which has earned strong bipartisan support. But by failing to show the same commitment in passing these two other free trade agreements, the President is missing out on an important opportunity to do something good for the economy and for jobs.

The President says he wants to double U.S. exports in 5 years. Free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama would go a long way toward meeting that goal--and creating jobs here in America--by opening markets in Latin America.

In my view, the time for delay on these two agreements is over. The President needs to do more than promise to ``pursue'' these agreements, as he did today. He should work with Congress to pass these two agreements and sign them into law.

This should be an easy one. Colombia is a strong strategic ally in South America, and it has made great strides in addressing the concerns of labor union critics here in the U.S. It has come a long way. We should not walk away from Colombia now. As for Panama, our two nations have had strong strategic and economic ties for years. This agreement would only strengthen those bonds and build on them.

As America sits on the sidelines, our competitors around the world, including the EU and Canada, are moving forward to lower barriers to trade and increase access for their businesses and workers. This is unacceptable, particularly for an administration that is claiming as its top priority to ``win the future.''

It won't be enough for Republicans and it shouldn't be enough for the business community to allow the administration's trade agenda to start and end with South Korea. We should be passing all pending trade agreements and inking new ones on a bipartisan basis, even when it requires the President bringing his own party along.

We have heard Secretary Clinton, Senator Baucus, and Ambassador Kirk all express support for submitting a Colombia FTA to Congress. But the President's own pronouncements continue to fall short. It is not enough for the President to say good things about free trade while siding with labor bosses over job creators and the vast majority of American workers who do not belong to unions and who would largely benefit from opening markets overseas. We shouldn't allow labor union bosses to have veto power over economic policies that benefit us all.

So the question is: will the President allow our allies in South America to continue waiting for us to move forward, or will he send the message that America stands by her allies and is prepared to do something good for American workers, good for the American economy, and good for key allies. Congress is ready to pass these two deals today. It is time for the President to commit to the same.

I yield the floor.

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