Originally published Sunday, October 16, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Three U.S. trade agreements create the magic dynamic: opportunity

Passage of the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama creates immediate opportunities for Washington agriculture and other leading exports. Our ports are ready to deliver.

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FORECASTS for the benefits of the three free-trade agreements adopted by Congress vary widely, but the long-dormant deals create something fundamental to all success: opportunity.

Politicians are the most optimistic about the potential for the agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Economists are more restrained, but no sales are made or jobs created without market access.

Washington agriculture is a clear winner, especially with the Korea agreement. Tariffs are eliminated on potatoes, wine, wheat, apples, cherries and pears. A hefty tariff on beef is eliminated over 15 years.

Let Washington products into the overseas markets, and their quality will prevail. The projected growth is dramatic, because exports such as wine already have a substantial presence. Lower prices and South Korean consumers will respond. Sweet cherries will lose a 24 percent tariff.

Moving goods and products through Washington ports is big business and destined to grow. We are the third-largest exporting state in the nation. Port of Everett Executive Director John Mohr noted that South Korea is one of the port's main trading partners.

"Lifting tariffs will help provide additional opportunities for aerospace sales," Mohr said in a statement commending U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen for support of the agreements.

The numbers are impressive. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell points out that $704 million in state revenue was generated last year from port activities and 8,480 companies that exported goods from operations in Washington.

President Obama got this stalled legislation through Congress with an extra measure of support for American workers who lose jobs to imports. The help is wholly appropriate as the country broadens access to markets overseas and access to U.S. consumers is reciprocated.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's visit to Microsoft was a bit ironic in tone and location. His curious rant about free trade and fist-shaking rhetoric against China was intended for whose ears? Where is his next stop, General Electric?

The country has to have confidence in its capacities to compete. All of our national strengths, from the labor force to technology and finance, are irrelevant without access and opportunity.


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