Free trade equals free jobs

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Last week, President Obama declared his plans to double domestic exports over the next five years and announced a renewed push on the pending free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that are currently pending.

Yet it is time for the reality to match his rhetoric. Despite these statements, the president and Congress have yet to act in any meaningful way to increase our exports in a global economy. During this time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, entering into free trade agreements will boost employment levels in our manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

In the past year, the House has passed a trillion dollar stimulus bill; a $150 billion son-of-the-stimulus; a $15 billion “jobs” bill; a cap-and-tax bill; and a massive government takeover of health care—all in the name of creating jobs. All the while, unemployment has hovered around 10 percent. Yet, by enacting these pending free-trade agreements, we could create thousands of jobs without spending a dime.

Surprisingly, even President Obama agrees with me. He recently stated that increasing U.S. exports by just 1 percent would create over 250,000 American jobs. According to the International Trade Commission, passage of the Colombia, Panama and South Korea agreements would increase our exports by more than that one percent. The inaction on these trade agreements is preventing the creation of a quarter-million American jobs.

Furthermore, by not finalizing these trade agreements, we’re putting our domestic economy at a competitive disadvantage. Take the situation in Colombia. An already agreed to free trade agreement has been pending congressional approval since 2006, during that time our products have been unnecessarily charged over $2 billion in duties; money that would have been far better spent by businesses reinvesting in their companies to hire more workers or making investments and infrastructure improvements to facilitate expansion.

Moreover, by delaying the ratification of these agreements we are losing out business to all of the other countries that see the benefits of free-trade agreements.

As it currently stands, Colombia is the eighth largest market in the world for sales of U.S. wheat. According to the U.S. Wheat Associates, from 2008 to 2009, 70 percent of Colombia’s wheat was imported from the US. However, Colombia has just signed a free-trade agreement with Canada and is preparing to sign a similar agreement with the European Union.

While Canadian farmers will thrive with their duty-free wheat exports to Colombia, experts estimate that the failure of the US to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement could lead to an annual loss of more than $92 million to our domestic wheat producers.

Washington spending has gotten out of control and the American people are fed up with the same old methods of trying to grow the economy. But by finally ratifying these free trade agreements, we can create hundreds of thousands of jobs at no cost. The bottom line is free trade equals free jobs.

Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), 28, is the youngest Member of Congress and represents the 18th District of Illinois.