U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Friday that he expects the long-delayed U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement to go into effect shortly.
“We’re pretty close,’’ said Kirk, who addressed the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s public/private economic development agency. He said he was confident that before the end of the year, the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement would be operating.
Free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea, which were approved by the U.S. Congress at the same time as the pact with Panama, have already been in effect for several months.
Because Panama was already a preferential trade partner with the United States, no changes in U.S. law were necessary before the trade pact could be implemented. However, the ball has been in Panama’s court to amend its tariff schedule and overhaul its intellectual property regulations.
Panama’s legislature approved a new intellectual property law that brings the country into compliance with the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement Wednesday — clearing one of the last hurdles. But, Kirk said, “In Panama they have a constitutional court that has to bless any change in the intellectual property regime.” That court currently isn’t in session.
Kirk was in South Florida to preach the gospel of trade as a way of creating jobs. President Barack Obama has a goal of doubling U.S. exports by the end of 2014 to support millions of jobs in the United States. Each additional $1 billion in exports is estimated to create 5,000 to 7,000 jobs.
“Lots of places I go around the world I have to make the case for international trade,’’ he said. “I get the sense it might be an easier sell here’’ he told the Beacon Council audience.
However, Kirk urged the crowd to publicize the job-creating benefits of trade: “You’ve got to convince your friends and neighbors this is real.’’
“There’s still no more powerful brand than made-in-the-U.S.A.,’’ he said.
Another component of increasing U.S. trade, he said, is enforcement of trade agreements, to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules.
During his speech and in a later interview with The Miami Herald, Kirk also provided updates on other trade issues:
• Trans-Pacific Partnership — President Obama announced his intention to make U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region a priority in 2009, and the U.S. and eight partner countries — New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia — are negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership that will be the next-generation trade agreement for the region.
Critics have argued that the TPP turns the U.S. away from traditional trading partners. But Kirk said, “This is not what is defined as an Asian pivot away from the Atlantic,” but rather a recognition that the United States hasn’t as yet taken full advantage of Asian trade opportunities.
The past 18 months have brought 14 rounds of TPP negotiations. The 15th round will be held in New Zealand and will be the first that Canada and Mexico, which recently were approved for TPP membership, will take part in. “TPP could be a real game changer in terms of increased trade and jobs,’’ Kirk said.
EU-U.S. trade pact — The economic crisis in several European nations has had an adverse effect on U.S. exports this year, but the United States and the 27 countries of the EU are in the process of negotiating a new trade agreement.
“We are heavily engaged with the European Union in how to deepen our trade relationship. Our goal is to have a comprehensive agreement and hopefully we’ll be able to do that by the end of the year,’’ said Kirk.
“If we could totally liberalize trade between Europe and the United States, which is the largest commercial relationship in the world, I would say many of our partner countries in Europe would see it as a ray of hope for injecting some positive economic life in the European Union,’’ said Kirk. “And considering how much we sell to Europe that would be a benefit to our economy as well.’’