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Congress poised to approve trade pacts

Kai Ryssdal: Barack Obama's been in office now for, what, two and a half years, right? Bear that, and an economy desperate for jobs, in mind as I tell you this.

Congress finally took up three free trade deals today. Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea that were negotiated in the Bush administration. So even with the prospects that the agreements would mean billions of dollars in new exports and with tens of thousands of new jobs potentially in the offing, getting to yes in Washington has proved difficult.

We'll be sending off more wheat and soybeans, boats and airplanes -- and beef. Marketplace's David Gura made some calls out to the ranch this morning.


David Gura: Ed Greiman's a cattle producer in Garner, Iowa. And these days, he's thinking globally.

Ed Greiman: We are no longer in the United States market. We're in a world market.

Greiman's been to South Korea on a trade mission. Cattlemen have wanted these deals for a long time.

Kevin Kester owns a ranch in Parkfield, in California's Central Coast region.

Kevin Kester: It's not a fairy tale situation. We've been working very hard for years to get these free trade agreements passed by Congress, and implemented.

Kester says access to new markets could boost demand and raise the price of U.S. beef.

Kester: And if we have higher prices for our products, then possibly we might consider hiring more employees.

Politicians have used jobs to sell these trade agreements from the get-go. And that drives economist Donald Boudreaux crazy. He teaches at George Mason University.

Donald Boudreaux: Freer trade doesn't create jobs or reduce jobs.

Freer trade rearranges jobs, Boudreaux says. The U.S. beef industry could grow if South Koreans like our beef better than theirs. But if American carmakers can't compete with South Korean auto imports, then the U.S. may lose some jobs in that sector. Boudreaux says free trade is guaranteed to do one thing.

Boudreaux: It makes us richer in the long run, is what it does.

Competition intensifies, we get more money for what we make better and more efficiently than others do. We get more value for what we buy. And that, Boudreaux says, should be the selling point -- not new jobs.

In Washington, I'm David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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