Mr. Speaker, I join my colleagues in strongly supporting passage of this legislation to implement the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement. This agreement and the others that we are considering today will give our economy a much needed shot in the arm by opening markets to our companies, workers, and farmers. Plus, unlike some other plans that purport to grow jobs, this one will actually do so and comes with no new government spending.
This trade agreement with Panama will have broad benefits for our economy. One particular sector which will give our firms and workers an enormous benefit is services. Nearly 77 percent of Panama’s booming economy is in the services sector – and complements the U.S. economy. Thus, putting this agreement into force will likely provide tremendous market opportunities for U.S. service providers. The agreement levels the playing field by removing existing barriers and goes a long way towards ensuring that new barriers that discriminate against U.S. service firms do not emerge. Moreover, as we ship more products to Panama under the agreement, workers in our U.S. ports and logistics companies will also benefit.
Now some say “Why the rush?” — as if waiting almost five years to implement this agreement is not long enough. I will tell you why. We have already lost tremendous opportunities by waiting to implement this agreement, and further delay will only increase these lost opportunities.
As we have largely been absent in the previous two years from pursuing free trade around the world, others have vigorously pursued regional and bilateral deals to secure market access for their products and services. Panama has embraced its key strategic location and strong economic base by looking further overseas to expand its markets. It already has agreements with, among others, Taiwan and Singapore and recently concluded agreements with the EU and Canada. Agreements with South Korea, northern European countries, and others are also on the horizon. Given that exporters from these new partners have or will shortly have greater access to the Panamanian market than U.S. exporters, we cannot wait any longer for our trade agreement with Panama to go into effect.
Finally, as the current Administration admits, Panama has done everything we’ve asked to address the various concerns that have arisen with that country. Panama has shown a strong commitment to protecting labor rights for Panamanian workers and has made more than a dozen changes to its labor laws. In addition, Panama not only has a ratified a tax agreement with us, it was also recently included on the OECD list of countries with internationally agreed upon tax standards, a list that includes the United States.
Mr. Speaker, there is no reason to wait. Implementing the Panama agreement will benefit our economy, while waiting will just put us further behind our economic competitors. That is why I urge my colleagues to support this vital legislation.