By Dharana Rijal, News Writer, MPP ‘13
President Obama signed free trade agreements with three countries, Colombia, South Korea, and Panama last week following approval from both the House of Representatives and the Senate the week before. These agreements bring the total number of bilateral deals that the US has with other countries to 20.
The recent deals were stalled in US Congress for more than three years since the end of negotiations as the parties worked out, among other issues, how to address the effects of foreign competition at home. Another issue was concerned with trade partners’ non-compliance with international environmental and labor standards abroad.
The domestic unease has been mitigated to a degree through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that promises to help workers hurt by foreign trade. The issue on labor standards had been a particularly sensitive one for Colombia, where hundreds of union murders have been reported in the last few years. The US and Colombia signed a Labor Action Plan earlier in the year, which aims to address labor standards. So far, not all the provisions of this action plan have been met. Citing dissatisfaction with these limited developments achieved both at home and abroad, Democrats in Congress had continued to oppose the trade deal.
Proponents of free trade however, applauded these long-awaited agreements for their promise of lowering the price of imports and allowing for the expansion of domestic exports. The Obama administration has also said that the agreements are in line with its goal to boost exports and create jobs. Annual exports of American goods are expected to grow by about $12 billion as a result of these deals.
On the streets, however, apparent benefits from the recent trade agreements are few and far away—and they seem particularly so amidst anti-market protests across the US. In addition, jobs remain elusive; the unemployment rate for September remained at 9.1%.
The United States is expected to go ahead with another agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), some time in the future. The TPP would link the United States with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. In addition to reducing trade barriers, this coalition hopes to address issues ranging from intellectual property rights to financial services and government procurement. But given the current gridlock in Congress, many agree that it would be too optimistic to expect an international economic agreement anytime soon.