Vol. 4 Num 61 Sat. July 26, 2003  

US House passes FTAs with Singapore, Chile

The House of Representatives approved free-trade pacts Thursday with Singapore and Chile, giving President George W. Bush a victory in his agenda to expand bilateral deals to cut tariffs and expand trade.

The House passed the Singapore measure 272-155 and approved a separate pact with Chile 270-156. The measures are expected to win passage in the Senate next week, which would ratify the pacts signed by the Bush administration.

"The votes today are a victory for openness and an important recognition by the Congress of the positive role that trade plays in growing America's economy," US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

"These cutting-edge agreements eliminate tariffs, tackle non-tariff barriers, open services markets, strengthen the intellectual property protections for our knowledge industries, and enhance labor and environmental protections. They level the playing field for US businesses, increase choice and value for American consumers, and provide fresh momentum for open markets."

In Santiago, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos welcomed approval of the pact.

"With this vote comes a recognition of Chile and Chileans, a recognition of the professionalism of our civil employees who toil in the embassy in Washington, and also, if I may say, the way our country has developed," he said.

Thursday's action also drew quick praise from US business groups, which said the free-trade measures would be good for companies and the economy.

"These trade agreements provide American small businesses, manufacturers and service providers the chance to get back into the game on international trade," said US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue.

"They send a clear message the United States is prepared to improve trade and economic relations with countries that stay on the path of economic reform, free markets and democracy."

Backers of the two free-trade pacts said thet open the door to expansion of roughly 47 billion dollars worth of trade annually for the three nations.

"Removing restrictions to the free flow of goods, information and funds is critical to the world's economic health and certainly to UPS as an enabler of global commerce," said Mike Eskew, chairman of United Parcel Service and co-chair of the US-Chile FTA Coalition and the US-Singapore FTA Business Coalition.

"These agreements will bolster business for both small and large companies alike and in the process, create jobs."

But the vote in Congress did not come without fierce criticism from lawmakers that may depress wages, erode worker rights and send many US jobs abroad.

Representative Pete Stark, a California Democrat, said, "As if it isn't bad enough that we trash workers' rights in Chile, we have to do it in Singapore too."

Stark cited estimates showing 3.5 million US white-collar jobs will shift to other countries in the next 10 years, and that the free-trade pacts would exacerbate that trend.