Cantwell Applauds Committee Passage of Trade Package that Includes Vital Retraining Program for Displaced Workers, Korea FTA

Cantwell: ‘Gaining access to new export markets will be a significant boon to our economy’ Deal would improve trading with 5th biggest market for WA state exports, improve sales of cherries, wine, potatoes, other products ****VIDEO AVAILABLE****

WASHINGTON, U.S. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell applauded committee passage of a comprehensive trade package including free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia as well as an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) through 2013.

TAA ensures that workers who lose their jobs and financial security as a result of trade-related shifts in production have an opportunity to transition to new jobs and retrain to enter emerging sectors of the economy.

According to the International Trade Commission, these trade agreements will create 250,000 U.S. jobs and increase U.S. exports by $13 billion.

The vote of approval occurred today during a Finance Committee’s ‘mock’ mark-up of the trade package. Following Administration review of the deals approved by the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, final versions of the implementing bills will be submitted by the Administration to Congress for final approval.     

“Washington state is a very trade dependent state, and this agreement means a lot for Washington agriculture,” Cantwell said at today’s hearing. “South Korea has 45 percent tariffs on apples and pears and a 25 percent tariff on cherries as well as tariffs on wine and potatoes. But despite this we had $11 million worth of cherries going to Korea in 2010. So having these tariffs reduced could mean huge increases in Washington agriculture products. …these trade agreements are about opening up markets to products that we are already seeing high tariffs on and getting our products accepted into other markets.”

Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s remarks at today’s hearing.

With the European Union’s Free Trade Agreement with South Korea now in effect (since July 1, 2011), finalizing the United States-South Korea FTA soon would help secure America’s place in an important export market.

With South Korea representing Washington’s fifth largest export market, Washington state agriculture will see significant benefits under the United States-Korea FTA. Currently, South Korea has a 45 percent tariff on apples and pears, 25 percent on cherries, as well as tariffs on wine and potatoes. Despite this, Washington state exported $11 million worth of cherries to South Korea in 2010. The reduction in tariffs would reduce the price of cherries by 75 cents a pound in South Korea and could increase Washington wine sales by 45 percent. Beef production is the state’s 5th largest commodity and the market for American beef in South Korea has the potential to reach $1 billion.

Washington’s ports and waterways – the closest to Asia of all U.S. ports – also stand to significantly benefit from the U.S.-Korea FTA. Washington state is the 3rd largest exporting state in the country and together, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma comprise the second largest container load center in the country. Last year, $704 million in state revenue was generated from port activities. 

The deal marked up today in Committee includes an extension through 2013 of TAA, a job program for trade-affected workers, as well as an extension of important bipartisan reforms made to TAA in May 2009. The deal also retroactively extends coverage to TAA petitions filed after February 12, 2011.

“I think Washington state has probably been one of the larger recipients of TAA funds in the past,” Cantwell said at today’s hearing. “That’s because we’ve had the dislocation that went along with TAA. We’ve had the upside and we’ve had the dislocation. And TAA has made that work for us. … I’m glad that TAA is a cornerstone to the agreement.”

Cantwell has advocated including TAA as part of a broader trade and competitiveness strategy. In May 2011, Cantwell joined a group of 41 senators in calling on Congress to agree to extending TAA before President Obama submitted the pending free trade agreements. Without an extension, TAA was set to expire at the end of this year. The senators also called for a long-term extension of important bipartisan reforms made to the program in May 2009 to keep pace with the changing employment and labor landscape, but which expired in February of this year. In a letter to President Obama, the senators wrote that “strengthening the safety net for the middle class by extending TAA should be a prerequisite for the consideration of new trade agreements.”

Last year, nearly $18 million in TAA funds were allotted to Washington state, helping more than 5,000 Washingtonians transition to new jobs in dozens of industries. Nationally, 42 percent of the workers certified for TAA since the reforms were implemented would not have been eligible without the reforms. In Washington state, since the May 2009 reforms, 7,269 workers have received TAA assistance.

The Senate Finance Committee considers the draft implementing bills during a ‘mock’ markup because Congress cannot formally offer amendments to the final implementing bills submitted by the Administration under the Trade Promotion Authority Act – also known as ‘fast track’ – procedures.  Following Administration review of any amendments that the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees approve on the draft implementing bills, final versions of the implementing bills will be submitted by the Administration to Congress for final approval.

For more information, visit the Senate Finance Committee’s newsroom.