The U.S. is getting left behind in the global trade arena by not moving forward with pending Free Trade Agreements with Columbia, Panama and Korea. That's the assessment of former USTR Agriculture Ambassador Allen Johnson. However, he says he's encouraged about advancing trade, including the FTAs, after the President's State of the Union Address.
"He seemed to imply that he wanted to move forward so there were some positive signs," Johnson said. "But you have to see where the rubber meets the road and we actually submit those agreements to Congress, and Congress passes them. I think frankly the votes are there to pass them, it's just that so far the Democratic leadership of the Congress has not wanted to take it up."
Johnson says one obstacle to Congress approving any of the Free Trade Agreements yet this year is the fact that 2010 is an election year.
"It could be a success story for the Obama Administration," Johnson said. "I think of them largely as non-political. In order for it to pass it's going to have to be submitted by a Democratic President and brought up by Democratic leadership, but probably a majority of the votes for them are going to be coming from Republicans, so as you look at the next election they really become almost a non-issue."
Johnson also sees little chance of getting a WTO agreement in 2010 as the President hasn't even filled key trade positions within the Administration.
"You have to say that it's a ways off," Johnson said. "The reality is that the people that would be negotiating such an agreement for the United States, including my old position, aren't even filled yet in the Obama Administration. Both the Ambassador to Geneva and the Agricultural Ambassador positions have not been filled yet."
Without a more aggressive trade agenda, Johnson says the U.S. is in jeopardy of losing its competitive advantage as other countries around the world are striking bi-lateral agreements almost daily.