Today, Washington state Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) announced that he will vote for the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement (USAFTA). 

“As a leader of the New Democrat Coalition in the House, I understand the importance of trade,” Smith said.  “A trade agreement with Australia will certainly help the U.S. economy, but particularly, it will be an economic boom to the Puget Sound region.  Washington state leads the nation in trade with Australia with more than $2.6 billion in exports. The agreement will have the greatest benefit for Washington’s manufacturer employees and ports.”

The free trade agreement will provide for a two-way trade in goods and services between both countries totaling $28 billion annually, while supporting approximately 12, 500 jobs in Washington state alone and more than 270,000 nationally.  The USAFTA would result in immediate duty-free treatment of 99% of U.S. exports of manufactured goods to Australia when the agreement goes into effect

“Expanded trade with Australia will have a significant impact on our region’s manufacturing employees, such as Boeing workers,” said Smith.  Nearly 95% of Qantas Airways’ operating fleet, Australia’s national carrier, is comprised of Boeing aircraft. Boeing projects a $20 billion market for its commercial airplanes and parts in Australia.

Because the Australian and U.S. economies are both modern and industrialized and are at similar levels of development, with similar average wage levels and environmental standards, labor and environment issues have not been a cause of bilateral trade friction.

“Australia’s labor and environmental standards are amongst the strongest in the world,” Smith noted.  “In that regard, it’s a very similar country to the U.S.”

Sixty days from now, President Bush must submit a preliminary list of U.S. laws that would have to be changed in order to comply with the agreement. After entering into the agreement, but within no specific time frame, the President then can submit a draft of the agreement, the implementing legislation, and statement of administrative action to both Houses of Congress. The Congress then has a total of 90 legislative days in which to act. Under trade promotion authority the amount of time for debate on the agreement in both Houses is limited and the vote is strictly a yes or no vote with no amendments.

“If we want to level the playing field and allow our companies and workers to compete in the global economy, we have to negotiate with other countries to get their tariffs and other trade barriers down,” said Smith. “I strongly believe that trade is critical to economic growth.  The United States must be a leader in the world and we need to be aggressively negotiating with the rest of the world.”

As a co-chair of the House New Democrat Coalition, Smith will be working to whip the Democratic vote for the trade agreement.