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Oct 17 - Kingston, Barrow Differ on Trade Agreements Passed Last Week to Boost Economy, Create Jobs

By Lou Phelps, SBJ Staff

Oct 17, 2011 - With strong bipartisan support, both the House and Senate finally approved long-stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama last Wednesday evening.  The approvals pave the way for a $13 billion boost in exports to the countries and could create tens of thousands of jobs, according to Congressman Jack Kingston (R) who voted in favor of the agreement with Panama and Korea, though he opposed the trade agreement with Columbia.

Congressman John Barrow (D) voted for the trade agreements with Columbia, but voted against the trade agreement with Panama and Korea – completely opposite from the positions taken by Kingston.

President Barach Obama had been on a road tour for the past few weeks around the U.S. trying to call attention to the stalled agreements, urging the public to pressure their Congressmen to pass the measures. Federal officials had negotiated the agreements with the three countries more than four years ago.  However, Obama’s support was due to an agreement he negotiated with Republican John Boehner that the Republican leadership would extend the benefits programs for U.S. workers who lose their jobs overseas, the concerns of many Democrats about the Bush Administration-era trade agreements.

“From our world-famous Vidalia onions to chemicals, machinery to cotton, and carpets to boats, exports are big in Georgia.  Last year, Georgia exported $28.9 billion worth of goods and exports supported more than 82,000 jobs,” said Kingston, after the vote.  He did not comment on imports that will be allowed as part of the agreements.   

“These free trade agreements will create new opportunities, expand market access and level the playing field for Georgians.  Together they will be a much-needed shot in the arm and will empower businesses to create jobs.  While Georgia already maintains huge trade relationships with the three countries – exporting more than $1.1 billion to them in 2010 – reducing tariffs on Georgian goods stands to increase the relationship and boost Georgia’s economy dramatically if past free trade agreements are an indication,” he added.  

The agreements have been stalled in Congress for a number of years. Many Democrats have been concerned that the agreements would threaten U.S. jobs, and some Republicans objected to aid for U.S. workers who lose their jobs that move overseas.

 The Bush Administration first negotiated the agreements which were later revised by the Obama Administration to demand the worker aid. The worker-aid legislation passed 307 to 122, after John Boehner revised his earlier position, negotiated by President Obama, according to Business Week. Obama would not send the agreements up to Congress without the workers’ aid component.

Each of the trade agreements were voted on separately.  The cochairman of the Congressional Textile Caucus, U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), voted for free trade agreements with the nations of Colombia and Panama but against a similar pact with South Korea. Last week, he said that while the agreements with Colombia and Panama will open up new markets for American manufacturers, the Korean trade deal would be devastating to the U.S. textile industry.

But Kingston believes that such agreements are positive for the U.S.  For example, Kingston points to the 2004 ratification of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, where Georgia’s exports to the country increased by 204 percent. And, a similar agreement that passed that same year has allowed Georgia’s exports to Chile to see a 158 percent expansion.

According to the independent, nonpartisan International Trade Commission, the agreements will increase exports to the country more than they will increase imports from them.  For example, the South Korean agreement will increase exports by 30% more than it will increase imports.  The Colombian agreement will increase exports by $600 million more than it will increase imports, Kingston said.

“These free trade agreements will create jobs here at home without costing taxpayers a dime.  At the same time, they will strengthen our strategic allies and help stable, democratic economies grow around the world,” Kingston summarized.

Both Kingston and Barrow voted along party lines on the trade agreements.  Barrow has been in attendance 93% of the time for all votes cast in the House of Representatives this year, but has only voted 71% of the time with the Democratic leadership, according to the Washington Post.  Kingston has been in attendance for 92% of the votes cast in 2011 in the House, and has voted with the Republicans 92% of the time. 

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