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Completing Doha Round top Bush priority

President Bush said he would make the “successful” conclusion of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization negotiations a top priority of his administration during his last year in office.

Making trade a major theme of the 2008 State of the Union address, the president also called on Congress to approve free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea and to reauthorize and reform the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

“Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods and crops and services all over the world,” the president said. “We’re working for a successful Doha Round of trade talks, and we must complete a good agreement this year.”

Many products from Columbia, Panama and South Korea now enter the United States duty-free, he noted. “Yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field, and they will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers.”

The president acknowledged that increased trade can mean that some Americans lose their jobs and he asked Congress to “reauthorize and reform trade adjustment assistance, so we can help these displaced workers learn new skills and find new jobs.”

A few hours before the president spoke, the White House released a set of detailed policy initiatives on trade that mostly dealt with the benefits of approving the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea and the need for extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

The president said free trade agreements promote America’s strategic interests, a claim the Bush adminstration, and before it, the Clinton administration used to justify passage of a series of bilateral agreements, including the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement, which was passed by Congress and signed by the president in December.

“The first agreement that will come before you (this year) is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror, and fighting drug traffickers,” he said. “If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere.”

National Corn Growers Association President Ron Litterer praised the president’s emphasis on trade near the beginning of his address.

“NCGA supports the Bush administration’s push for approval of the Colombia, Panama, and Korea free trade agreements,” said Litterer. “Removing trade barriers between these countries will create important new export opportunities for corn growers — and corn customers such as livestock producers.”

But rice industry officials oppose the pending U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement because of the South Korean government’s refusal to discuss opening its market to increased shipments of U.S. rice.

In its policy initiatives, the White House said passage of the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea would allow the United States to build on the progress of the Peru agreement.

“All three pending free trade agreements include the same labor and environment provisions as the Peru free trade agreement, which the administration negotiated with Congressional leadership as part of the May 10, 2007, bipartisan agreement on trade policy,” the White House said.

But, recognizing the effect such agreements can have on jobs, the president will “urge Congress to reauthorize and reform the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help workers directly displaced by trade take advantage of America’s dynamic economy.

“President Bush believes American workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs can compete with anybody, anywhere as long as the rules are fair,” the White House said. “The president also believes the federal government has a role to play in helping workers directly displaced by trade adjust to changes in our dynamic economy. The TAA program puts money and choices directly in the hands of workers looking to learn new skills and find new jobs.”

Continued expandsion of free trade and investment is critical to continued economic growth and job creation, the White House said.

“Opening markets has helped expand democracy, strengthen the rule of law, and lift hundreds of millions out of poverty worldwide,” it noted. “Open markets also contribute to America’s prosperity — exports now account for a larger percentage of our GDP than at any other time in our history, meaning that trade is supporting economic growth.”

In the four years since the United States signed a free trade agreement with Chile, the White House said, American exports to that country have more than doubled. In the year since the United States began implementing a free trade agreement with Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, American exports have grown by 13 percent.

The White House said Bush remains committed to concluding an “ambitious” Doha Round agreement this year. The Doha Round, which began in Doha, Qatar in 2001, has defied efforts to be brought to a successful conclusion because of the refusal of the European Union and other WTO members to increase access to their markets for agricultural products.

Although trade agreements with Colombia and Panama would be important, most analysts say a free trade agreement with South Korea would be the most commercially significant bilateral agreement the United States has concluded in 15 years.

“The KORUS FTA will open a growing market of 49 million consumers to the full range of U.S. goods and services, from autos to telecommunications services,” the White House said. “The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates the reduction of Korean tariffs and tariff-rate quota provisions on goods market access alone would add $10 billion to $12 billion to annual U.S. GDP, meaning more jobs for hard-working Americans.”

KORUS FTA would eliminate tariffs on 94 percent of trade in industrial goods within three years, and more than half of U.S. agriculture exports to Korea will become duty free immediately, it said.

“The free trade agreement will also address a range of non-tariff barriers, and increase transparency in Korea’s regulatory processes. The agreement will strengthen Korea’s economic reforms that have helped it become a prosperous economy and vibrant democracy and sustain the growth of trade and investment opportunities for the mutual benefit of both countries.”

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