Bilateral trade agreements are languishing in Washington, a symptom of what is looking more like a dysfunctional government all the time.

While Congress and the president spend all their time failing to raise the debt ceiling and not coming to terms on a deficit reduction package, they are too busy to take action on other agenda items that could positively affect the economy.

Waiting in the wings are trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea that have been held hostage to the budget crisis. And what’s amazing is that while there are deep philosophical divides between Democrats and Republicans, these trade agreements are not that controversial. There are enough members of both parties, including the president, who see these deals as a way to boost exports and stimulate job creation at a time when the country needs it.

These deals, particularly the Korean agreement, would be good for America and good for Maine.

Maine is already a net exporter of goods and services to Korea, which buys Maine-made computer chips and airplane parts as well as paper and wood products. If a trade deal is finalized, dropping Korean tariffs on American goods, other Maine products like lobsters (now subject to a 20 percent tariff) and blueberries (now subject to a 30 percent tariff) could find new markets overseas.

The trade deals have predictable opposition from some labor groups and their supporters in Washington, including Rep. Mike Michaud, who extrapolate the loss of manufacturing jobs that resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement to this deal. We think that analysis is flawed.


Korea is not Mexico. Korean workers are better paid and enjoy better labor protections than Mexican workers — and even some American workers — and would be better able to buy U.S. imports. The overall trade deficit between the United States and Korea is a fraction of the imbalance that exists with other trading partners and would not be expected to change dramatically if Korea were to drop its barriers to imports. Our barriers are already low.

The United States won’t be able to maintain this relationship by doing nothing. U.S. manufacturers have to compete with Chinese companies that pay lower wages and European competitors, who have signed a trade agreement and will soon see their tariffs disappear.

At a time when there is broad political agreement that the United States has to boost job growth, this seems like an ideal time to pass these trade deals and increase American exports. Congress has its hands full with unbridgeable ideological differences on some issues, but that shouldn’t stop members from working together on the areas in which they agree.

The United States should stop holding all other business hostage to the debt crisis and find a way to move forward on these trade deals.

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