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Words from Washington

Fair trade agreements are no-cost job creators

With more people out of work than ever and established companies closing their doors, the focus in Congress must be on ways to help create jobs and grow our economy. Instead, over the past year government has grown bigger, and Congress has put new taxes and restriction on small businesses and entrepreneurs. These new mandates and government takeovers of private industry have cost our nation trillions of dollars - all without improving our economy.

One of the best ways to turn our economy around and put people back to work here in Washington state is to enact fair trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, and follow through on the federal government's commitments under current trade agreements with countries like Mexico and Brazil. These simple steps would immediately level the playing field for American farmers and businesses, remove onerous tariffs on U.S. products and expand export opportunities. Taking these long overdue steps would strengthen the Central Washington economy and expand the workforce, without spending trillions on stimulus spending bills or more government bailouts.

One of the immediate benefits of enacting a fair trade agenda would come from meeting our trade obligations with Mexico. This would eliminate the 20 percent tariff Mexico placed on 90 American products, including frozen potatoes, pears and cherries. This tariff has affected many Central Washington employers, and has contributed to local plant closures.

Before these tariffs were imposed, Mexico was a $40 million market for Washington state frozen potato products. Since they went into effect, the U.S. potato industry has lost 42 percent of its market share in Mexico to Canada.

Expanding American export markets is also a good way to create new jobs and grow the economy here in Central Washington. That is why I have continued to push for Congress to move forward with fair trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. These agreements have already been negotiated and are simply waiting for an up-or-down vote in Congress.

For decades, many of these countries' products have enjoyed one-way open and duty-free access to American markets. At the same time, U.S. exports face steep tariffs, limiting our ability to sell American products in overseas markets. Immediately upon enactment of these fair trade agreements, tariffs on many products, including apples, pears, cherries, potatoes, beef and other products will disappear.

While this Congress has blocked a vote on this fair trade deal for the past three years, American farmers and businesses have lost ground to global competitors. These no-cost solutions to job creation and economic expansion should be at the forefront of any legislation under consideration by President Obama and Congress, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to see that fair trade opportunities create jobs here in the United States.

- Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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