Can free trade agreements help job growth?

World flags wave in Seoul, South Korea

Steve Chiotakis: The American economy will limp along, but avoid recession. That today according to World Bank President Robert Zoellick. Speaking in Singapore, Zoellick said slow growth and high employment are likely to continue for some time. Now one idea to create jobs that's getting attention from both parties is free trade.

President Obama has championed it before. But today, now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released its jobs plan that also asks the president to push through trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Marketplace's Amy Scott is with us now live to check whether free trade actually does mean jobs for this country. Good morning, Amy.

Amy Scott: Good morning.

Chiotakis: Now there's some thought that the President will talk about these deals in his jobs speech on Thursday before Congress. Do these agreements tend to produce jobs, Amy?

Scott: Well the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says these agreements would protect 380,000 jobs. Other economists say they tend not to create jobs -- or at least they don't create as many as are lost.

But I spoke this morning with Jeffrey Wood, an economics professor at Cass Business School in London. He says jobs aren't really the point of a free trade agreement.

Jeffrey Wood: We shouldn't think of it simply in terms of job creation. Some jobs will vanish and some jobs will come about. What it will do is make people better off.

Chiotakis: Make people better -- OK, how is that?

Scott: Well, by making goods cheaper and more available. But of course there are other concerns about free trade agreements, like human rights abuses, environmental abuses. It's not just about shipping jobs overseas.

Chiotakis: These deals have already been negotiated with the countries. Why the delay, Amy?

Scott: Well of course, Congress has had a lot on its plate. But in an opinion piece in yesterday's Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed President Obama for stalling. The president has to introduce these in Congress, and McConnell says Republicans have agreed to the kinds of protections for workers that might have blocked them from passing.

Chiotakis: Alright, Marketplace's Amy Scott reporting. Amy, thank you.

Scott: You're welcome.

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