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U.S. secretary of commerce on the importance of free trade deals

Steve Chiotakis Oct 4, 2011

U.S. secretary of commerce on the importance of free trade deals

Steve Chiotakis Oct 4, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: The White House has sent three big trade deals to Congress — agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The bills have been delayed for years because of politics and partisan wrangling.

Rebecca Blank is Acting Secretary of Commerce. She’s with us now from Washington to talk about these things. Madame Secretary, welcome to Marketplace.

Rebecca Blank: Good to be here, Steve.

Chiotakis: Why are these trade goals so important?

Blank: These trade deals open up other markets to U.S. companies and help create jobs for American workers, and help reach the president’s goal of doubling exports over these next five years.

Chiotakis: But these deals have been on the table for a while, right, in the Congress — so what’s been the hold up?

Blank: These deals have been discussed for many years, and the president was concerned that they were not completely in the right configuration and went back and renegotiated. So that you now have broad-spread bipartisan support, with both the automobile workers — for instance — supporting the South Korean Free Trade Agreement, as well as a good number of Republicans.

Chiotakis: What do you say to people who say Free Trade has been a disaster to American jobs, I mean, looking at NAFTA and the jobs it sent to Mexico?

Blank: I mean I think that’s a misunderstanding of what the effects of these trade agreements have been historically. The U.S. is a very open economy and foreign companies have widespread access to the U.S. economy. We need equal access to the economies of other countries.

Chiotakis: I want to shift gears for a moment and talk about this debate over a proposed bill that would try to compensate for China undervaluing the yuen. It would impose duties on Chinese good imported here to the United States. How else would the U.S. battle an undervalued China currency?

Blank: We have been pressing them for changes — indeed you have seen over the last two years very steady increases in the value of the Chinese currency relative to the U.S. dollar.

So the degree of undervaluation is much less now than it was two years ago, in part in response to U.S. actions. That said, there is currently a bill in the Senate that is quite a broad-based bill in terms of the penalties it would suggest imposing. We’re in conversations with the Senate about that as the whether that’s the right approach or whether there are other things we should be doing.

Chiotakis: The Chinese are using words like “trade wars,” perhaps. I mean, are you guys concerned about that?

Blank: I think you always have to be concerned that you don’t want to create trade wars with other major economies. You know, I would certainly hope we’re going to find a resolution and a way to deal with some of our concerns about Chinese currencies without anything that approaches something we’d call a “trade war.”

Chiotakis: Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, thank you so much m’am.

Blank: Thank you.

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