Some Americans act as if Congress and the president have a jobs-making switch somewhere they can flip to help the economy. If only. No modern economy is that simple. And the factors that affect employment can be complex.
But that doesn't mean there aren't concrete steps that policymakers can take right now to improve the situation and kick-start a stalled recovery. Consider the three free-trade agreements that have been sitting around for the last several years. There's no reason for them to remain idle when they could be doing good work for a lot of people.
Start with the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, it would increase U.S. exports by an estimated $10 billion annually. Think it would help our economy to be shipping an additional $10 billion in goods every year? Of course it would. This increase in trade would create thousands of new U.S. jobs. Look at how anemic the monthly jobs reports have been in recent months -- that would be a godsend.
The benefit of the Korea-U.S. FTA goes beyond dollars and sense, by the way. A glance at its résumé also indicates that it would help a key U.S. ally in the region better withstand pressure from China, and enable Seoul to rely less on Beijing.
As Heritage trade experts Bruce Klingner and James Roberts write in a recent paper, "Seoul has become increasingly concerned about China's belligerent and arrogant behavior and willingness to use its growing military and economic power to pressure smaller Asian nations." The Korea-U.S. FTA can serve as an important counterbalance in a dangerous region -- if, that is, U.S. policymakers finally approve it and let it get to work.
FTA No. 2 is with a nation closer to home: Colombia. Talk about waiting a long time to start work: This pact was originally signed in November 2006. And this agreement, too, would bring economic and security benefits to both nations. This expansion of trade would create economic opportunities and help stabilize Latin countries plagued by drug violence and grinding poverty.
Colombia doesn't just trade with the United States, of course, and it has pursued agreements with other nations, including China and the European Union. "From Argentina and Canada come agricultural products that enter Colombia with duties lower than those placed on U.S. products, duties that would end with the passage of the FTA," notes Latin America expert Ray Walser. The U.S. is estimated to have lost some $1 billion in agricultural sales, and all because the U.S.-Colombia FTA remains unpassed.
On top of that, the FTA would help defend against the growing threat posed by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has been trying to undermine U.S. interests in the region for years. We need more market-based democracy in that part of the world -- not less.
The third FTA is with Colombia's next-door neighbor: Panama. The price of delay there has been very similar. Again, we have an agreement forged several years ago (2007) that has sat on the sidelines while Panama hammers out trade deals with a wide variety of nations, including Canada, Singapore, Taiwan and Chile. Meanwhile, U.S. companies have missed key opportunities -- job-creating ones -- that would have come if they could have bid on the $5 billion construction of a third set of locks for the Panama Canal.
So the next time you hear Washington politicians bemoaning the economy, ask why these three trade agreements haven't been put on the job. They need to be approved -- now. No conditions. Starting date: yesterday.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org.