USTR Ron Kirk testified yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee on the President’s 2011 Trade Agenda and the three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.Disagreement remains between the Obama Administration’s stated intent to submit the KORUS FTA to Congress first, and the position of Republican Senators like Sen. Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Coburn, R-Okla., who refuse to approve KORUS unless it is packaged with the other two. Yet the fact that the debate has moved to how to get these FTAs approved represents something of a spring thaw compared to the winter freeze that had existed since they were signed — 2006 for Colombia and 2007 for Korea and Panama.

Promoting free and open markets is a core CCIA principle, and we have continued to strongly support trade expansion.  In particular, we have pushed for passage of the KORUS FTA, not only for the market access expansion it would provide for our industry, but also for its broader economic impact as our second-largest FTA (after NAFTA) with an advanced and important trading partner.  Therefore, we applauded the administration’s achievement in reaching final agreement on KORUS in December, paving the way at last to Congressional consideration.

However, some Republicans are now threatening to oppose KORUS consideration unless Colombia and Panama are submitted at the same time.  It is tragic that pro-trade Members of Congress would feel the need to delay an economically significant trade agreement with bipartisan support because they do not believe the administration’s explicitly stated commitment to other trade agreements.

CCIA believes that support for free trade puts the long-term merits to the nation as a whole ahead of short-term narrow interests.  How unfortunate then that even among those who agree on taking that statesman-like stance, a lack of trust causes such a deep dispute regarding the process of pursuing free trade.

The past few years have seen a deep freeze in which the pending FTAs were locked in cold storage.  Now that KORUS appears ready to emerge, we hope that Congress and the administration can reestablish the trust needed to work together toward a robust spring of trade expansion.

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