* Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement.
* We have been waiting to vote on this agreement since it was first signed in 2007, which means four years of lost opportunities.
* But now we have a chance to repair that damage.
* In the past year alone, Panama's economy grew 6.2 percent, making it one of the fast growing in Latin America and an expanding opportunity for American exporters.
* Panama is already among Miami-Dade county's top 25 trading partners, and Florida as a whole ranks number one among the 50 States in exports to that country.
* These figures will only increase once the FTA has been approved and American businesses no longer face heavy tariffs and other artificial barriers to trade.
* Currently, U.S. industrial exports face an average tariff of 7 percent, with some tariffs as high as 81 percent.
* Once this agreement goes into effect, 87 percent of all U.S. goods exported to Panama will become duty-free immediately.
* In the past 4 years since the U.S-Panama Free Trade Agreement was signed, American companies have paid millions upon millions of dollars in tariffs to the Panamanian government.
* Those are dollars needlessly spent by U.S. businesses, which they could have used for investments and expansion here in the U.S. instead of paying fees to a foreign government.
* Approval of the U.S.-Panama FTA will eliminate this transfer of wealth, increase U.S. exports, and create new jobs here at home that so many Americans are desperately searching for.
* The agreement also has many other provisions of importance to U.S. businesses, especially strengthening intellectual property rights, which are under assault around the world.
* In addition to the potential economic growth stemming from this agreement, Panama is a key strategic ally in the region.
* Ever since the Panama Canal was completed a century ago, Panama's importance to the U.S. has only increased as a major transportation route, with two-thirds of its traffic consisting of shipments between our west and east coasts.
* For these many reasons--expanded exports, increased jobs, and closer ties with a strategic ally--I strongly urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote in favor of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement.