What’s Expected on Trade in the State of the Union Address

In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama will finally set out his agenda and timetable on three pending free trade agreements — with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, with few surprises. As expected and as announced earlier this month by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the president will announce that he’ll send implementing legislation to Congress on the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement by July 1 of this year.  That’s good news, since this FTA is expected to deliver significant economic and geopolitical benefits to both countries.

Disappointing though will be the president’s declaration that both the Colombia and Panama FTAs still have problems to be worked out before Congress can consider those agreements.  This, after the Colombia pact was signed in 2006, and the Panama FTA in 2007.  And, in 2007, the Democrat-controlled House also insisted that stringent new labor and environmental provisions be added to both FTAs and to all subsequent trade agreements.  What else does the administration — and union supporters — want to force on our close trading partners and allies before they can trade freely?

Given that the new House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp and major business leaders — at a hearing today — said that all three FTAs should be considered in the next six months, President Obama could announce a timetable for the Colombia and Panama trade pacts that gives the Administration wiggle room for trade union opponents. I expect he’ll move that timetable up a bit for the Korea FTA.

Also expected in the SOTU address will be the president’s heavy emphasis on the economic importance of increased exports, especially in creating jobs — and his National Export Initiative announced last year. Forgotten about, though, will be mention of the benefits of imports — in also providing jobs, but, more importantly, in providing consumers with greater choice in goods, including products that are inexpensive and lets them keep more of their hard-earned money, and in increasing competition so that better products emerge.