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Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk to the Congressional Black Caucus Institute Annual Policy Conference

Ambassador Ron Kirk
United States Trade Representative

Remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus Institute Annual Policy Conference
Tunica, Mississippi
August 13, 2011

* As Prepared for Delivery *

“Thank you, Congressman Thompson, for your generous introduction and for hosting this exciting conference. Thanks to Congressman Cleaver, for giving me the opportunity to share in this special event, and for your strong leadership as Chairman. And thanks to all Members in attendance, as well as distinguished guests, friends, and family.

“Meeting here in Mississippi, we have an opportunity to discuss critical issues affecting our communities, to move beyond debates – and frankly, some distractions – that have consumed a great deal of time and energy in Washington over the past few months.

“I think we all agree that right now the conversation should be about jobs, jobs…and…jobs.

“In fact, I understand the CBC began a five-city jobs tour this week. You’re helping to put the focus back where it needs to be – on creating more employment opportunities for men and women across this country who want to work, earn a decent wage, and provide for their families.

“President Obama shares your goal to get the economy moving faster and creating jobs more quickly. Because while deficit reduction is part of the agenda, it is not the whole agenda.

“As the President said on Monday: ‘Our problems are imminently eminently solvable. And we know what we have to do to solve them…’

“That’s why President Obama has asked Congress to take some bipartisan, commonsense steps toward job creation as soon as Members return from recess.

“Among the top priorities on the President’s jobs agenda is to pass our pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, as well as to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance.

“President Obama said these deals will help displaced workers looking for new jobs and allow our businesses to sell more products in countries in Asia and [Central and] South America, products that are stamped with the words ‘Made in America.’”

“The President’s push to pass these job-building trade deals is based on economic evidence that exports are helping to drive the recovery.

“Exports were up 17 percent last year, and we are on track to meet President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal to double exports by the end of 2014.

“Of course, passing trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama will unlock even more opportunities to increase American exports.

“In fact, it estimated that together these three agreements will increase U.S. GDP by $12 billion in support of tens of thousands of additional American jobs.

“Each agreement holds significant export opportunities for U.S. producers in a wide range of jobs and industries.

“First, since statistics show that three out of every four private sector jobs in America is in a service-related industry, I think it’s important to remember that these agreements cover not only agricultural and manufactured goods, but also services provided by U.S. companies and small businesses.

“Opening up foreign markets for U.S. service providers – as each of these agreements does – will create opportunities to increase exports and support more U.S. jobs.

“In fact, guaranteed access to the services markets of South Korea, Colombia, and Panama adds up to a combined total of over three-quarters of a trillion dollars ($766.6 billion: South Korea – $580 billion, Colombia –$166 billion, Panama –$20.6 billion).

“Of course, President Obama and I also agree with many of you who feel strongly that we must continue to build America’s manufacturing base for the 21st century. Our trade agreements are vital to such efforts.

“These agreements will help U.S. manufacturers and workers stay globally competitive so that they can continue to discover, design, make and build the most innovative products right here in America, and then sell them to customers all around the world.

“In turn, increased exports will support well-paying jobs for hard-working Americans today, tomorrow, and well into the future.

“Let me give you one example. In my home state of Texas, chemical manufacturers exported $1.6 billion to South Korea annually on average from 2008 to 2010. Overall, U.S. chemical manufacturers exported $5.4 billion to South Korea annually on average from 2008 to 2010.

“The commercial success of U.S. chemical producers in the South Korean market is notable, because South Korean chemical tariffs currently average 6 percent and can be as high as 50 percent.

“But once the agreement enters into force, 50 percent of U.S. chemical exports by value will receive duty-free treatment immediately, 82 percent will be duty-free within three years, and the remaining tariffs will be phased out within 10 years.

“Those tariff reductions will help keep American chemical manufacturers competitive in the multi-billion dollar South Korean market, which will help support more manufacturing jobs in Texas and many other states.

“In addition to helping grow U.S. manufacturing exports, these trade agreements hold tremendous opportunities for America’s agricultural producers.

“For example, here in Mississippi, farmers exported an estimated $505 million of soybeans to global customers last year. Our trade agreement with South Korea will give Mississippi farmers an opportunity to increase their exports.

“Once the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement enters into force, U.S. exporters will receive immediate duty-free access for soybeans for crushing. And the agreement will provide more direct access to South Korean customers for U.S. suppliers of food-quality soybeans by creating a tariff rate quota with an initial quantity of 10,000 tons.

“Increased market access for U.S. soybeans to be sold in South Korea will support additional jobs on and off of the farm, from Mississippi to Missouri to Michigan and many other states.

“U.S. farmers, ranchers, workers, manufacturers, and service providers will also benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers contained in our trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. These agreements are critical to keeping American producers competitive in these valuable markets.

“Until recently, most products from Colombia and Panama entered the United States duty-free under U.S. trade preference programs (which Congress failed to renew late last year). At the same time, many U.S. goods exports face tariffs in Colombia and Panama.

“Nonetheless, U.S. producers exported over $18 billion of goods to Colombia and Panama last year ($12 billion to Colombia, $6 billion to Panama).

“American exporters will be able to sell even more products “Made in the USA” once the agreements enter into force and our producers receive access to the Colombian and Panamanian markets on a more level playing field.

“But to be sure, I should note that I’ve heard concerns from many farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers that they are losing market share to competition from Canada and the EU, both of whom have signed FTAs with Colombia and Panama. And the EU FTA with South Korea went into effect on July 1st.

“That’s why we think there is pretty compelling value proposition to pass each of these trade agreements. They are a balanced approach to creating jobs, and they will unlock export opportunities for American manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and service provides.

“I also want to emphasize that this Administration has made important improvements to strengthen each of our pending trade agreements.

“We listened to the serious concerns that many of you expressed, then we did the critical work necessary to secure: additional market access for U.S. automobiles in South Korea; an Action Plan to address labor-related violence and conditions for workers in Colombia; and measures to improve tax transparency and labor practices in Panama.

“These improvements will help to ensure that our trade agreements uphold our values and advance our interests at the same time. With these improvements, we are ready to move forward.

“That’s why I am very pleased that Senators Reid and McConnell have agreed on a path forward in the Senate for the pending trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance.

“Speaker Boehner has also now clearly committed to floor consideration of TAA along with the trade agreements.

“The Administration looks forward to working with leaders of the Senate and House after Congress returns in September to secure approval of these important initiatives for America’s working families.

“Of course, even as we continue efforts to complete pending trade agreements and TAA, we are also moving forward with robust efforts to open markets and enforce U.S. trade rights around the world.

“We’re making good progress at the regional level through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

“We are strongly supporting Russia’s bid to join the WTO, working through the accession process with Russia and other WTO members.

“We are also working with other WTO members to take a sober and realistic look at next steps in the Doha Round.

“Our trade enforcement team is actively asserting U.S. trade rights to reap the rewards of our agreements for American businesses, workers, and families.

“Earlier this year, we won the largest commercial victory in the history of the WTO against illegal EU subsidies in the Airbus case.

“Recently, the WTO found in our favor against China with respect to industrial raw materials.

“Last week, we took the next step to hold Guatemala accountable for apparent systemic failures to uphold its obligations with respect to the enforcement of Guatemalan labor laws.

“This is a continuation of the first labor case that the United States has ever brought under a trade agreement. By requesting the establishment of an arbitral panel under CAFTA-DR, we are sending a strong message that the Obama Administration will act firmly to ensure effective enforcement of our labor laws by our trading partners.

“Along with strong trade enforcement, Trade Adjustment Assistance is a key element of the Obama Administration’s balanced approach to trade.

“Because even as we open new markets based on accountability and fairness, to support thousands of well-paying American jobs, we are also protecting our workers who may be negatively affected by trade.

“The TAA legislation moving through Congress reflects many improvements we made to TAA in 2009: it helps displaced workers in America’s services sector as well as in manufacturing with job re-training, lower health insurance premiums, and assistance that keeps families on their feet.

“The bottom line is that President Obama has made sure that these deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama are fairer for American workers and businesses, hold our partners accountable to keep their promises, and also reflect core American values on key issues like the worker rights and protection.

“These agreements will help to boost U.S. exports and support tens of thousands of American jobs, and we are committed to their passage.

“Advancing Trade Adjustment Assistance with these pending pacts is the right thing to do – because a balanced trade agenda recognizes the tough realities of trade for some Americans, even as we seize trade’s opportunities to create jobs here at home.

"The President believes America can and must do both, and I look forward to working with all of you to advance these job-building trade initiatives over the next few months. Thank you.”