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Originally published July 27, 2011 at 4:10 PM | Page modified July 27, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Guest columnist

Congress must OK trade agreements to create jobs in Washington and the U.S.

Congress is considering pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Guest columnist Eric Schinfeld argues that Congress should approve the agreements to boost job creation in Washington state and around the U.S.

Special to The Times

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AT a time when Republicans and Democrats in the other Washington can't seem to agree on anything, there's a job-creation proposal that is strongly supported by both sides of the aisle: the pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Even more important, a significant portion of this job creation would happen in Washington state. So it is vital that our state's residents come together and advocate for swift passage of this boost to our economy.

The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement Business Coalition and the Latin America Trade Coalition estimate that these agreements would create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the nation. At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, the agreements would level the playing field for U.S. exporters — who often face high tariffs in overseas markets — and create real business opportunities for American businesses, both large and small.

For example, the pending South Korean-U.S. agreement (KORUS) is the largest U.S. trade deal in more than a decade. If approved, it would eliminate tariffs on more than 95 percent of industrial and consumer goods within five years; open Korea's dynamic services market to U.S. companies; protect the intellectual property of American innovators and creative artists; and remove non-tariff barriers that are especially harmful to smaller companies.

KORUS alone could increase exports of U.S. goods by at least $10 billion, and significantly increase the U.S. GDP.

Washington stands to benefit greatly from these agreements because South Korea, Colombia and Panama are important markets for our state. In 2010, South Korea was Washington's fourth-largest export market, with sales of nearly $1.9 billion from the diverse products and services that our state's companies have to offer: airplanes, software, architecture, cherries, potatoes and wine. Meanwhile, trade with Colombia and Panama totaled close to $400 million in exports last year — an increase of 180 percent over 2009.

An estimated one in three jobs in our state is dependent on international trade. Supporting passage of these free-trade agreements will help maintain and create jobs for families across Washington state and increase revenues for a wide range of state-based employers.

The cost of even a short delay is high, yet the Obama administration has now said these agreements will not be submitted to Congress until the fall. Meanwhile, other nations are racing to implement their own trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, threatening to put American workers at a competitive disadvantage.

As of July 1, the European Union-Korea Free Trade Agreement was enacted, and the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will go into effect on Aug. 15. U.S. farmers and ranchers have already lost more than $1 billion in sales to Colombia due to trade diversion; 25 percent of Washington's exports to Colombia are agricultural, so our state is greatly impacted by these losses.

The Washington Council on International Trade is working closely with our members to ensure that Washington's congressional delegation understands how essential the immediate passage of these free-trade agreements is to our state. Their leadership on these issues has been key to recent House and Senate progress.

Our leaders need more voices to add to the urgency, so they can explain why these agreements are so critical, and why they must be approved as soon as possible. We encourage you to join us in contacting your member of Congress and the Obama administration, urging them to come to resolution on these proposals and help create the jobs that Washington's economy desperately needs.

Eric Schinfeld is the president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

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