Brown critical of free trade agreements

The Marietta Times

MARIETTA - A representative from Beverly-based Globe Metallurgical joined U.S.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Wednesday in criticizing new free trade agreements approved by Congress and backing a bill to govern future pacts.

During a teleconference Wednesday, Marlin Perkins, vice president of sales for Globe, said the company's production of aluminum-silicon alloy is affected by barriers other countries set up for American-made automobiles. While the free trade agreements passed by the Senate Wednesday focus on tariffs, other techniques are not addressed, he said.

"If we have a chance to compete fairly on a level playing field, our workers and our company can compete with anybody," Perkins said.

Brown voted against the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. In the teleconference, he said such agreements are against the national interest, undermining "Buy American" policies and costing the country more jobs than they create.

Brown pointed to claims from Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton that the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed in 1994, would create 200,000 jobs, then noted some economists estimate more than 600,000 were lost as a result.

"It's like reporting the Yankees scored five runs yesterday, which sounds pretty good if you're a Yankees fan- but not if the Indians scored 12," he said.

Brown plans to introduce the Reciprocal Market Access Act, which would instruct trade negotiators to eliminate foreign market barriers before agreeing to reduce U.S. tariffs. It would include benchmarks for job growth that the agreements must meet in order to remain in effect.

"If they don't open up their markets, they don't get the tariff reductions in our market," Brown said.

The White House says the three new deals will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and that just the agreement with South Korea, America's seventh largest trading partner, will support 70,000 American jobs.

Groups that oppose the pacts, including the AFL-CIO, point to past cases where free trade agreements were linked to factories moving overseas and they dispute the job growth figures.

Brown and Perkins said tariffs aren't the only way countries limit their imports from America.

"The Koreans have been remarkably effective at keeping our cars from being sold in (South) Korea," Brown said.

Perkins said countries like Japan and South Korea don't directly restrict automotive imports.

"They erect other barriers such as tedious inspection practices, limitations on engine size and ... unreal emission standards," he said in an email after the teleconference. "These slow the import process and limit access to their markets. When the U.S. is unable to sell automobiles into these countries, not only is GM, Ford and Chrysler hurt, we as a first- or second-tier supplier suffer as well."

With the focus in both the White House and Congress on jobs, the three trade agreements passed by the Senate Wednesday enjoyed wide bipartisan support.

But they did draw criticism from Democrats like Brown in areas hit hard by foreign competition, as well as those concerned about threats of violence faced by labor leaders in Colombia. Republicans also questioned why the agreements took so long to get to Congress.

"Those three agreements are basically Bush administration trade policies that (Obama) inherited," Brown said. "He made slight changes with them; he would argue they were more than slight."

The White House demanded linking the trade bills to extension of a Kennedy-era program that helps workers displaced by foreign competition with retraining and financial aid.

Supporters of the agreements argue that South Korea, Panama and Colombia already enjoy almost duty-free access to U.S. markets and the agreements will lower tariffs on U.S. goods, making them significantly more competitive.

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