January 7th, 2007 05:25 EST
Commerce Secretary Says, Bush Steadfast on Free Trade Agenda
Washington—While searching for common ground with the new 110th Congress, President Bush will remain committed to his open-trade policy and will push for new free trade agreements, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez says.
Addressing concerns about the alleged loss of jobs in the United States caused by free trade, Gutierrez said protectionism does not protect jobs. “The only way to protect American jobs is to encourage innovation, expand job training, promote private investment and compete. Doing so requires that we continue opening markets throughout the world,” he said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., January 5.
Congress will have to address four new free trade agreements (FTAs). Three of them concern Latin American countries -- Columbia, Peru and Panama. (See related article.) The fourth one is with South Korea, which, according to Gutierrez, “will be the largest Asian FTA and our largest FTA since [the North American Free Trade Agreement].” (See related article.)
The commerce secretary said U.S. exports have increased at an annual rate of 5.8 percent since President Bush took office:
“In 2005, the U.S. was the largest exporter of goods and services in the world with $1.3 trillion dollars. 2006 will be another record year. Through October, overall exports grew 13.1 percent from the same period last year, while imports grew 11.7 percent. Exports to China surged 34 percent. Imports from China grew 17.6 percent,” he said.
Gutierrez attributed those increases in U.S. exports to free trade agreements. “Although FTA countries only make up 7.3 percent of the world’s [gross domestic product], exports to these countries comprise 42.5 percent of U.S. exports,” he said.
The commerce secretary also said the United States remains committed to the further opening of international markets and is “working hard” on advancing the World Trade Organization's now-stalled Doha trade negotiations. (See related article.)
Gutierrez mentioned the importance of extending the presidential Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), under which the U.S. president negotiates trade agreements and Congress restricts itself only to approving or rejecting them without amendments. Some experts say TPA extension faces an uphill battle in the new Democratic-majority Congress.
Critics have claimed TPA places too much power in the hands of the president and curtails the oversight authority of the legislative branch. Gutierrez, however, said that TPA is “critical” for free trade promotion and “no president should go without it.” (See related article.)
The commerce secretary also said the U.S. economy has begun to experience labor shortages, including that of high-skilled workers, with the unemployment rate at 4.5 percent. “We need to attract and keep the talent that currently comes to the U.S., studies in our great universities and returns home to compete against us. So we need immigration reform for high-skilled workers,” he said.
Gutierrez reiterated the Bush administration’s call for comprehensive immigration reform that would include, apart from better border control, a temporary worker program and “a path to legalization for workers who can achieve the appropriate requirements.”
The full text of Secretary Gutierrez’s remarks is available on the Commerce Department Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Jaroslaw Anders
USINFO Staff Writer