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Michael Michaud

A Common-Sense Direction on Trade
By Rep Michael Michaud
Jul 25, 2010 - 12:25:40 AM

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President Obama recently announced that he wanted to address the outstanding concerns with the pending Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and bring it to Congress for a vote. In response to that announcement, this week I sent a letter, signed by 109 other Members of Congress, asking the President for a meeting to discuss how we can fix the Korea-U.S. FTA and how we can improve U.S. trade policy so that it works for Mainers, too.

The U.S. approach to trade has not changed drastically in the 15 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Now, more than ever is the time to review and revise our trade policy. If the recession showed us anything, it showed us how important it is to have a robust manufacturing sector and how economically damaging our trade deficit can be. The only meaningful way to address these issues is to fix our broken trade policy, and we can start with making changes to the Korea-U.S. FTA.

Unfortunately, fixing a handful of provisions in the Korea FTA, such as those on auto and beef provisions in the Korea FTA will not be sufficient. It is imperative that U.S. car companies and cattle ranchers get equal and complete market access in Korea. But it is also equally important that we make sure the agreement does not undermine the new financial regulations just signed into law or make states' workplace safety regulations vulnerable to challenges by Korean companies doing business here.

It's also critical that we look at basic issues like how to connect small U.S. manufacturers with export opportunities and how to retrain workers who lose their jobs as a result of these trade agreements. Right now, there is not enough technical assistance for our small businesses to find those openings in foreign markets. And Mainers are all too familiar with Trade Adjustment Assistance. The assistance is needed relief and the training is helpful, but without a broader effort to protect our manufacturing sector, there are no jobs to be trained for.

Too often in Washington, efforts to improve our trade priorities are misconstrued as being anti-trade. This is simply an argument of convenience. Of course I support trade. I want Maine's farmers and businesses to export their products to foreign markets. But signing flawed trade agreements just for the sake of signing them is bad policy and it hurts our economy.

The reasons for getting our trade policy right are simple. We shouldn't promote off-shoring of U.S. jobs. We should protect and promote the U.S. manufacturing sector. And we must address our ballooning trade deficit. Signing trade agreements that take away manufacturing jobs or benefit multinational companies at the expense of middle-class families is not only wrong, it's economically unsustainable.

That is why my colleagues and I requested a meeting with President Obama to discuss how we can fix the Korea-U.S. FTA and ways we can improve our long-term trade strategy. A productive conversation will help us take advantage of this unique opportunity to reexamine our approach to trade and make sure it works for all states, including Maine. Opening our markets shouldn't mean losing our livelihoods, but if we keep pushing more bad trade deals, that's exactly what will happen.

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