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May 19, 2011

TRANSCRIPT: Enacting Trade Agreements is Opportunity to Create Thousands of Jobs

Mr. Johanns: Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor to speak about the free trade agreement. I hope that this is the last time that I come to the floor on this issue, until we are actually debating these job-creating agreements. But I must admit I feel obligated to hold my breath. 1,420 days have passed since the Korea free trade agreement was signed. 1,422 days have passed since we signed an agreement with Panama, and it has been 1,640 days since we completed negotiations with our close ally, Colombia.

Now, we have heard the administration tout the job-creating benefits of the agreements, so why more roadblocks? Our unemployment rate, Mr. President, is nearly 10%. Our workers deserve a consistent message on job creation from this administration. It has been over a month since President Obama and the President of Colombia made an announcement. The announcement was that negotiations had been completed – I might add -- yet again. I was relieved that President Obama finally announced that there was an agreement and that there was a need to complete the long overdue agreements.

I am confident that the agreements brought to the Senate and the House would finally win bipartisan support, and I still am today. In fact, over a month ago in the "wall street journal" my colleagues, Senators Baucus, and Kerry, called for congress to -- quote -- "restore a broadly shared bipartisan consensus on trade" -- unquote. Now the administration seems to be moving the goalpost, suggesting continued delay. They're trying to hold these agreements up to force us to make spending increases that were contained in the ill-fated economic stimulus bill. during the challenging economic times that our nation has endured, we should all be doing all we can to exert every single ounce of energy to get our economy moving again and create jobs. This is not done by heavy-handed government. Massive new spending, and new entitlements when our current programs are unsustainable. It is accomplished by lowering and removing barriers to our job creators so they can flourish.

Korea, Panama, and Colombia all have much higher tariffs to our exports than we have to their imports. These three bipartisan votes should have been at the top of the agenda two years ago. By now we should be voting on new agreements that this administration has negotiated, not the leftovers from the previous administration. And we'll need an even greater focus on leveling the playing field through trade agreements if we're really going to double our exports in the next five years, which is the goal the president has set. Yet the administration, claiming that reopening negotiations with Korea, Colombia, and Panama was necessary, continued to talk through these agreements. I'm not saying every single agreement before us -- or hopefully before us -- is perfect. No agreement ever is. However, let's not forget that these agreements were originally negotiated in good faith between allies. What does this delay do to our reputation as a reliable negotiating partner?

Back where I come from in Nebraska, a lot of business is still done with a handshake. We trust our neighbors because they're good people with good values. But if you make a deal with someone and you shake on the deal and then keep changing the terms other delaying the follow-through, well, you tend to stop dealing with those people. I sure hope that doesn't happen to us. The fastest-growing opportunities for American businesses, farms, and ranches are outside of our borders. Our greatest opportunities are overseas in rapidly developing countries. I fear that these long delays have hurt our ability, the ability of our government to negotiate high-quality trade agreements. But most importantly, Mr. President, it has hurt the ability of Americans to compete in these growing marketplaces. And let's not pretend that this delay has not cost American workers. Since the Colombia agreement was initially signed, all those days ago, our businesses and our agricultural producers have paid nearly $3.5 billion in tariffs for goods exported. That's enormous, especially when you consider that the U.S. international trade commission estimates that an American job is supported by every $166,000 in exports. Instead of wasting money on tariff payments, the U.S. manufacturing and ag sectors could have spent billions of dollars creating jobs here at home. I hope that we can soon get past the continued delays and the administration can signal to us that they're serious about doubling exports in five years.

On July 1, less than two months away from now, the trade agreement between the European Union and South Korea goes into effect. It's also the date that the F.T.A. between Canada and Colombia goes into effect. The negotiators for other countries are watching the United States, and they have seen a lack of trade policy. They have seen a change here, and they're doing everything they can to fill that vacuum with negotiated and approved agreements. Now our exporters will face even greater competition when our trade agreements are approved – and hopefully they will be. The president said it very well in his State of the Union Address: quote -- "if America sits on the sidelines, while other nations sign trade agreements, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores" -- unquote. And that's exactly what's happening. I'll give one example. In 2007, American wheat farmers supplied Colombia with almost 70% of the wheat market, even though they faced tariffs of 10% to 35%.

By 2010, our wheat farmers' share of the market had dropped to 46%. Where did that business go? Well, meanwhile, Canada’s share grew from 24% to 33%. That percentage will skyrocket when Canadian farmers can export their products, duty-free, on July 1. Our wheat farmers may effectively be shut out of the market that they dominated at one point in time. Americans who are out of work know firsthand that an opportunity is being missed. Nebraska farmers, businesses,, workers those across the country know that we can compete with anyone, given a level playing field. After the absence of leadership on trade in Washington during the last two years, though, the job of competing is harder and harder. In proclaiming this week as "world trade week," the president noted the connection between the global economy and prosperity in our own country. He said, "to ensure our success, a robust, forward-looking trade agenda that emphasizes exports and domestic job growth" -- unquote --must be put in place. It is disappointing that the positive steps forward we've seen over the past few months have slowed in recent days. And we just can't afford more setbacks.

I look forward to working with the administration over the next two years on forward-looking trade efforts. Real progress forward would produce great opportunity here in our country. But we've got to get this work done first. Therefore, it is my hope that the president will bring to us, without delay, Colombia and panama and Korea trade agreements for us to vote up or down. Thank you. I yield the floor.

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