This past Sunday marked an important anniversary for the American economy. On November 22, 2006, the United States and Colombia signed the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. This agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on U.S. exports to this important trading partner – creating billions in revenue for U.S. businesses and new jobs here in America.

Unfortunately, it is an anniversary marked by missed opportunities. Instead of implementing this agreement when it was sent to Congress more than 18 months ago, Speaker Pelosi opted to block its consideration indefinitely.

Passage of this agreement is a matter of fairness. Since 1991, more than 90 percent of Colombian products have enjoyed open and duty-free access to American markets. At the same time, U.S. exports have faced steep tariffs and other barriers that put our farmers and manufacturers at a disadvantage.

With our unemployment rate at a 26-year high, we should be looking at every possible avenue to create jobs without continuing to add billions to the deficit. The Institute for International Economics estimates that implementation of this agreement would cause the value of U.S. exports to Colombia to increase by 44 percent. Passage of this agreement would provide an immediate economic boost to a wide range of businesses and create American jobs at a time when we need it the most.

Colombia currently has a trade agreement pending with the Canadian Parliament, and they are in negotiations with the European Union. Failure to act soon will not only result in the loss of billions of dollars in new exports for American businesses and the resulting jobs that would be created, but it would also jeopardize the U.S.’s current market share in Colombia, which is the third largest importer of American goods in South America.

Continued failure to even consider this agreement does not just mean missed opportunities for Americans in Colombia. It also sends a message to our other trading partners that the United States is not willing to engage in carefully-crafted fair trade deals that were negotiated in good faith by both sides, and could make it more difficult for American businesses to sell their goods elsewhere. With 95 percent of the world’s population lying outside of the United States, this could have very serious implications for our economy.
My home state of Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. Ranging from apples to computers, a mind-boggling one in three jobs in Washington is based on our exports to other countries. Opening new foreign markets isn’t just a bonus for my state – it is critical to job creation and the health of our economy.

Unfortunately, boosting the economy and creating jobs through fair trade agreements does not seem to be a priority for this Congress. Those in control of the House of Representatives have refused to even allow a vote on this important agreement.

There is no question that our country is facing unprecedented challenges. The annual budget deficit surpassed a trillion dollars – that is a one followed by 12 zeroes – for the first time ever earlier this year, and it continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Instead of spending billions on bailout after bailout, growing the federal government by leaps and bounds, and passing bills that impose new taxes on job-creating small businesses, we should be enacting policies that help expand market opportunities and make it easier for American businesses to compete in the global marketplace. This is why I will continue my efforts to press Congressional leaders to allow an up or down vote on the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement and other pending trade agreements that will level the playing field for American businesses.

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