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September 14, 2011

TRANSCRIPT: Johanns Leads Colloquy Urging President to Act on Stalled Trade Agreements

Mr. Johanns: Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that we be allowed to engage in a colloquy with my Republican colleagues, Senators Roberts, Portman, Hoeven, Blunt and Isakson, and in the event the minority leader does appear to offer comments that we interrupt our colloquy for the minority leader to speak.

The Presiding Officer: Without objection.

Mr. Johanns: Madam President, I rise today with my colleagues to talk about trade and the importance of trade, and specifically, to talk about three pending trade agreements. When I say pending, man alive, am I emphasizing pending. These agreements have been around a very long time. And I’m referring to Korea, Panama, and Colombia. We all know the benefits of trade in the United States.

In Nebraska, my home state, more than 19,000 jobs and more than 5.5 billion dollars in revenue were directly tied to exports last year. We often hear in trade discussions about the need to level the playing field. Well, these agreements do exactly that. They eliminate tariffs and a whole host of other barriers on most agricultural products, including products that are important to, again to my state: beef, pork, soybeans and corn. No doubt about it, they increase the opportunities, the economic opportunities for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, for businesses and for workers.

Well, for three years we've heard the President say the right thing. In fact, every time he would say something about this, i thought, finally the trade agreements are going to bust loose and we're going to have an opportunity to vote on them. He said it at last year's State Of The Union -- quote -- "if America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose a chance to create jobs on our shores." unquote.

Then again in May the President called for quote – “a robust, forward-looking agenda that emphasizes exports and democratic job growth. Just last week the President noted now is the time, he said "a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea." Now is the time.

Well, if now is the time, why is the Administration continuing to fail to act? It's been 1,538 days since the Korea Agreement was signed. It's been 1,540 days since the Panama Agreement was signed. And it's been 1,758 days since we completed negotiations with Colombia.

As I said, I have colleagues with me today that are in a much better position than I would be to explain the impacts, the positive impacts of these trade agreements and so I am going to ask that Senator Roberts speak first, Senator Portman, Senator Hoeven, Senator Blunt, and Senator Isakson, and it is my hope that if there is time permitting I will wrap up.

Senator Roberts, please, as the Ranking Member and Former Chairman of the House Ag Committee, and the Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee how important are these agreements to agriculture and job creation in the United States? …

Mr. Johanns: Madam President, I end my comments today by saying to all of my fellow Senators, thank you so very much for coming to the floor today and making the case. There is an old saying in a profession I used to be engaged in: I rest my case. Well, after hearing from these fine gentlemen about the importance of these agreements and why we need to have the President send them here, I rest my case.

It's going to improve job creation. It is going to improve our opportunity to export our products. It is going to level the playing field. It is going to give our producers the opportunity to reclaim market share that has been lost while we've been waiting for these agreements to come here.

The final point I want to make is this: I come from a state where unemployment is right above 4%. In this recession, unemployment in Nebraska never went over 5%. As I was doing my town hall meetings across the state, I had business members coming to me and saying Mike, one of the challenges we're facing is finding the workers for the jobs that we are creating. Therefore, in my state, Trade Adjustment Assistance would not be the high priority it is in many states. Notwithstanding that fact, when Senator Blunt came to me and said look, the President is insisting on Trade Adjustment Assistance as a condition to move these agreements, will you sign on to a letter that will back Trade Adjustment Assistance, and I said I would. Why? Because the trade agreements are important to us.

It is my hope that after the many speeches we have all given, the many speeches I have given on the importance of these agreements, not only here on the Senate floor but across this country, that the President is listening and will finally send us these agreements so we can work with the President, that we can join arms on these agreements and do everything we can to get the votes in the Senate and the House to pass them and put them on his desk and create 250,000 new jobs.

Madam President, I yield the floor.

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