The U.S. Congress won’t likely ratify a free trade agreement with Colombia this year as it’s currently focusing on health care reform and energy-related legislation, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Tuesday.
“It’s pretty doubtful” that the pact will be ratified this year, although the Obama administration is pushing forward with this agreement and similar ones with South Korea and Panama, the secretary said, noting that U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is heading up the effort to conclude the trade deals.
Speaking to reporters in Santiago on the sidelines of the third Americas Competitiveness Forum, Locke said the U.S. aims to strenghten its trade ties with Latin America as the U.S. and Latin economies have greatly benefitted from existing ties.
“It’s in everyone’s economic interest to have trade agreements and lower tariff barriers,” Locke said. He added that President Barack Obama has indicated the U.S. is seeking an equal partnership with the countries in the region.
One of the topics covered in the forum was the threat of protectionism and how it can affect open economies. Many economies in Latin America are heavily dependent on their exports, which can be damaged by protectionism.
Protectionism “can only lead to retaliation and eventually to trade wars, Locke said.
When queried whether a recent move by the Obama administration to raise a tariff on tire imports from China could be seen as a retaliation that could lead to a trade war, Locke said the U.S. was only enforcing the terms of its trade agreement with China.
“This was much more about enforcing the trade agreement and not about protectionism; (trade) must be on a level playing field,” he said.
Earlier this month, the U.S. said it would impose duties of between 25% and 35% on imports of tires from China for the next three years, responding to what the U.S. International Trade Commission determined to be a surge of Chinese tire exports.
Beijing then responded with a probe into whether to restrict some U.S. imports and later China called for talks with the U.S. at the World Trade Organization.
“We’re still seeing good faith efforts to improve the flow of goods and services across our borders,” Locke told reporters and denied there was a trade war with China.
According to the secretary, in addition to seeking new trade agremeents, the U.S. is rethinking some of its trade policies, including its export control regime and the strict visa policy which prevents some business travelers from entering the U.S.
“This could increase opportunities for U.S. companies to sell their goods abroad,” the official said. Some products that are considered strategic, such as certain electronic goods, cannot be exported out of the U.S. (Dow Jones)