Fair trade requires merit instead of politics

By Tom Pierson, Federal Way Chamber CEO

There is truth to the maxim that if you wait long enough, most of your old clothes come back into fashion.

This is much like the current trend where lawmakers have, once again, found it politically fashionable to bash pending free trade agreements, including a much needed agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.

President Bush’s recent meeting with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak to discuss the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement set off the usual grumblings from union officials, trade protectionists and left-wing-come-socialist lawmakers. Ever since the question of free trade came up on the presidential campaign trail, the bashing has become much more intense. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have suggested free trade is a bad thing.

The viewpoint about free trade policies putting American workers and industries at risk is unfounded. Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more than 25 million new jobs have been created in our economy. Our goods shipped to Mexico and Canada have grown from $140 billion to $364 billion. The U.S. Korea Trade Agreement is, arguably, the most significant trade proposal since NAFTA, and we can expect to see similar benefits.

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the U.S. Gross Domestic Product would increase by $10 billion to $12 billion as a direct result of the reduction of tariffs on U.S. goods and services to South Korea.

Protectionism arguments are about as useful as modern day debates over the roundness of the Earth. We already exist in a global marketplace. It is no longer wealthy diplomats or politicians who have access to distant cultures and ideas. The proliferation of the Internet to every place on our planet has expanded opportunity for all.

Protecting industrial growth and economic stability is something worth arguing about, and as my life’s work and focus, something I fight for. But it is also the duty of our elected officials to scrutinize every trade agreement and decide whether to ratify or reject it based solely on an agreement’s merits, not the political breeze of the moment.

The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement is more than promising economically. It levels the playing field and brings American workers the benefits of fair trade.

Currently, U.S. businesses and farmers face substantial barriers to the Korean market. Some agricultural exports include tariffs as high as 500 percent. Nearly 95 percent of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products will become duty-free within three years of the agreement’s implementation. Nearly two-thirds of current U.S. agricultural exports to Korea will become duty-free immediately under the agreement.

Companies able to afford these costs have managed to profit from Korean trade, exporting $35 billion in goods last year alone. Those who could not compete in the face of such high tariffs were left out of the market.

Under this agreement, South Korean tariff rates would be reduced dramatically and all U.S. products would compete equitably with Korean goods. This is great news for small-to-medium size businesses, the backbone of America, and even better news for Washington state, whose economy relies heavily on port traffic.

The agreement has the potential to stimulate our economy when our nation needs it most.

If we continue to limit our access to South Korea, we stand to lose important ground with one of Asia’s biggest economic influences and the opportunities that free, open and fair trade generate — including new jobs locally and the reputation of being a global market leader.

Tom Pierson is CEO of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce. Contact: tomp@federalwaychamber.com or www.voiceofsouthsound.com/.

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