The trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Monday offer a bright spot in this nation's otherwise glum financial picture. While the immediate monetary impact to the United States, about $13 billion a year, is modest compared with America's overall economy, the agreements will particularly help some hard-hit industries, lay a foundation to boost American exports across the board and serve to stabilize the security of our trading allies. The deals also promise a boost for Florida. Congress should pass the legislation without delay.
The deals, five years in the making, were stalled by disputes on labor and environmental practices. Some Democrats have criticized the agreements as job killers and demanded an expansion of training programs for Americans displaced by the uptick in foreign competition. Republicans have resisted those job-training efforts and called for clean, up-or-down votes. But it appears congressional leaders have agreed to move the trade and worker retraining legislation in tandem. Americans expect Congress to compromise and focus on results, especially in the aftermath of repeated impasses over jobs, debt and spending.
The deals will generate real jobs and real dollars. The pact with South Korea alone is worth an estimated $11 billion a year. Eliminating tariffs on consumer and other goods is expected to support some 70,000 jobs. It will give U.S. automakers and the services industry access to one of the world's fastest-growing economies. The agreements with Colombia and Panama are smaller. But they present opportunities for agriculture, heavy machinery and other industries to secure a foothold in Central and South America. That could particularly help Florida. Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., praised the deals in statements Tuesday and called on Congress to quickly approve the measures.
Expanding exports creates jobs and promotes democracy and cultural ties. It strengthens trading partners' ability to work together on a host of issues, from terrorism and border control to regional security. The trade deals will bring more transparency to the contracting process, enabling American companies to compete more effectively for overseas business. The deals also begin to make up ground in protecting computer software, movies and other intellectual property.
By passing the entire package, Congress could grow the high-wage export sector and help displaced workers build skills for the modern work force. Given the state of the U.S. and world economy, there is no time to waste.