Florida Republicans praise Obama’s action on free trade agreements

By | 10.04.11 | 11:52 am

President Barack Obama (Pic by The White House, via Flickr)

President Obama sent new free trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama to Congress on Monday, a move many Florida Republicans are praising despite reports of potential American job losses and persistent anti-labor violence in Colombia.

The Miami Herald reports today that “both Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Monday said they support the free trade agreements the White House sent to Congress.”

The Herald adds:

Diaz-Balart said that the Colombia agreement alone could create more than 6,400 jobs for Florida — and increase exports by $500 million annually. “These agreements will not only get Americans back to work but also demonstrates solidarity with our democratic allies, Colombia, Panama and South Korea,” he said.

Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the agreements will “level the playing field for American businesses, including many in South Florida. The billions of dollars in increased sales that will result will enable these companies to create tens of thousands of jobs for hard-pressed Americans.”

Gov. Rick Scott also weighed in on the agreements in a press release:

I am extremely pleased President Barack Obama moved these critical free trade agreements off his desk and into the hands of Congress. These agreements are vital to our state and nation, and for far too long, U.S. companies, including many in Florida, have had to pay billions in excessive tariffs to Colombia and Panama for the ability to export American goods to those nations. A successful jobs plan is dependent on immediate ratification of these agreements, and I urge Congress to quickly pass them.

The Colombian Free Trade Agreement, supported by Democrats and Republicans, grants U.S. exporters tariff-free access to the Colombian market. Supporters say this would boost U.S. competitivness and create jobs, while opponents dispute the job creation figures and say that Colombia must show it will respect organized labor and workers’ rights.

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, if the Colombian agreement is approved, “over 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia will become duty free immediately.”

Vicki Gass, senior associate for rights and development at the Washington Office on Latin America, recently told the Independent that the Economic Policy Institute issued a study that shows the Korean and Colombian free trade agreements would cost the U.S. more than 200,000 jobs. She said studies have shown that the U.S. lost more than 682,000 jobs thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement passed in the ’90s.

Free trade agreement opponents have also said human rights violations, the unresolved murders of union leaders and cheap labor in Colombia should delay the approval of the agreement.

According to Gass, concerns about labor rights led the U.S. Trade Representative and the Colombian government to develop a Labor Action Plan.

Gimena Sanchez, also of the Washington Office on Latin America, writes that “in late August, a delegation that included U.S. Representative James McGovern visited Colombia where we met with trade unionists, labor activists and workers from the ports, oil palm, oil and auto sectors.”

Sanchez adds that the Labor Action Plan “has so far only led to formal rather than real changes in labor conditions and protection of trade unionists. Twenty-two trade unionists have been murdered so far in 2011, with ten of them killed after the April 15 announcement of the LAP.”

Sanchez writes that a key component of the Labor Action Plan “requires Colombia to dismantle the exploitative ‘worker cooperative’ or CTA model,” which allows “companies to subcontract workers via third parties so companies can avoid their labor rights obligations.”

ABC news reports that “Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, said today the trade deals will be a ‘top priority’ in the House.”

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