I am pleased to hold this timely hearing on the pending Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Free Trade
Agreements, especially in light of the President's recent emphasis on job creation. We would have loved to
have hosted Administration witnesses but they were not made available to the Committee. Our offer still
In his September 8th speech to Congress, the President once again noted the importance of these free trade
agreements, saying: "Now it's time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea."I could not agree more, but unfortunately after almost 3 years of delay, we are still waiting for the President to
send them to Congress.
At a time when millions of American families are struggling and so many people are looking for work, passage
of the Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea should be a top priority for all of us.
Merely by putting these agreements in the mail to Congress, the Administration would set in motion the
creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, a major expansion of U.S. exports, and broad economic growth.
And we can do so without hundreds of billions in new spending or higher deficits.
The increase of exports would spur economic growth throughout the U.S., including in my district in South
Florida. Colombia is already South Florida's second largest trading partner, accounting for more than $5 billion dollars a year and supporting thousands of jobs. And Panama is among Miami-Dade county's top 25 trading partners, with Florida as a whole ranking first in exports to that country. In fact, Panama's trade with South Florida has grown nearly 30% in recent years.
These figures will expand further once these two FTAs are approved. However, the repeated delays over the
past three years have already hurt many companies. For example, 96 percent of the flowers that are imported to the U.S. from Colombia pass through my Congressional district of South Florida. But the small and medium-size businesses in this sector have been hit hard from the higher tariffs resulting from the expiration of the Andean Trade Promotion Act earlier this year, a problem that can be easily fixed by passage of the Colombia FTA.
The free trade agreement with South Korea will produce even greater benefits. The U.S. International Trade
Commission estimates that it will increase our export of goods by at least $10 billion a year. That's not even
counting the high-value services in which our country leads the world, which now are shut out of large areas of South Korea's economy. The President's own Administration estimates that at least 70,000 jobs will result from the free trade agreement with South Korea alone. It is time to grant American businesses and exporters barrier-free access to the world's 13th largest economy.
While we have sat here, the EU and countries such as Canada and China have moved aggressively to undermine U.S. businesses. Earlier this year, the EU trade agreement with South Korea came into effect, putting U.S. businesses at a severe disadvantage in that country, resulting in lost sales for American companies and lost jobs here in the U.S.
There is more than just economic benefits at stake, however. Each of these countries is a key ally in an unstable area of the world, where U.S. interests are increasingly under threat from China and other countries. At a time when much of the world is expecting the U.S. to retreat from its responsibilities and abandon its allies, these agreements will serve as a clear demonstration of our enduring commitment to our democratic partners. Each has carried out their promises to us, including all of the many changes we have insisted on, and now it is time for us to carry out ours.
Finally, I think it is important to address a fundamental misconception regarding not only these free trade
agreements but others as well, the effects and purpose of which opponents seem not to understand.
Because the U.S. economy is a very open one, free trade agreements are primarily about removing the barriers in other countries to U.S. exports. For example, the free trade agreement with Colombia will eliminate duties on 80% of U.S. exports to Colombia, with almost all of the remaining duties and tariffs removed in 10 years. In contrast, 93% of Colombia's exports already enter the U.S. duty free. Colombia will benefit, but we will benefit much more. The same is true with Panama and South Korea.
It appears that the process for allowing Congress to consider these agreements is finally underway, with the
Senate approving just last night a key piece of legislation.
For the first time, it looks likely that the three FTAs will soon be sent to Capitol Hill to be voted on. Passage of
the South Korea FTA before President Lee arrives in Washington in October would be a tremendous
reaffirmation of our alliance with that key country. And as we vote, let us remember that we are voting to
knock down the barriers to U.S. businesses and to create the jobs that so many Americans and their families are desperately in need of.