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Tom Donohue: Trade with Asia Means Jobs for America

Korea-U.S. free trade pact a bipartisan opportunity to bolster the economy

On Election Day, the American people gave their representatives marching orders: Create jobs and grow the economy, and do it on a bipartisan basis. A good place to start is with the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) free trade agreement.

Tom Donohue
Tom Donohue

President Barack Obama has made completing the deal a top priority of his administration. After an election in which many candidates were attacked for supporting trade and foreign investment, it’s heartening to see the president say that expanding trade abroad is a recipe for creating American jobs at home. The midterm elections also ushered in more pro-trade members in Congress, making passage of KORUS easier.

Now is the time to get this deal done.

During his trip to Asia last week, President Obama met with Korean President Lee Myung-bak to discuss the trade pact. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was disappointed that the discussions weren’t successfully concluded, but we understand that progress was made and differences have been narrowed.

Enacting KORUS would create 70,000 U.S. jobs, according to the president’s Export Promotion Cabinet. Failure to do so would cost 340,000 U.S. jobs and $35 billion in exports because the European Union and other competitors are cutting their own deals with Korea.

In addition to KORUS, the United States has an opportunity to advance an aggressive trade agenda in Asia where U.S. companies are at risk of being shut out of huge markets. Asia is one of the fastest-growing, most dynamic regions of the world. But the U.S. share of Asia’s international trade has actually declined since 1990 as Asian nations have negotiated scores of trading agreements among themselves.

By contrast, the United States has entered into exactly two FTAs with Asian countries — Singapore and Australia. If we want to create jobs, export more American goods and services, and grow our economy, we must change course.

This isn’t true only for Asian markets; this is true around the globe. Two other pending trade agreements — with Colombia and Panama — would help America get back in the game in Latin America. But we can’t stop there. We must look for other opportunities to strike trade deals, such as completing the Doha round of international trade talks and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trade deals such as KORUS offer lawmakers an opportunity to work together across party lines to advance policies that will create jobs and grow the economy.

With nearly 10 percent of Americans out of work, we need to seize this moment and build momentum for job-creating trade agreements in the new Congress. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will keep pushing hard until these deals are done.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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