Trade policies pursued by President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress since the start of the year could lead to the loss of 585,800 U.S. jobs, a study said on Tuesday.
The study done for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce attributed almost two-thirds of the potential job losses, or 383,400, to Congress' failure to approve free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea.
Passing the two agreements and a third pact with Panama should be part of a national plan to double U.S. exports over the next five years, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue told reporters in a conference call.
A major surge in exports is our best path out of a recession, out of double-digit unemployment and the exploding deficits we're now experiencing, Donohue said.
The business group's call for Obama to work more urgently to pass the pending free trade agreements and resolve trade spats threatening U.S. exports came just a few days after Obama slapped tariffs on Chinese tires.
The United Steelworkers union asked for those curbs after saying that 5,000 U.S. tire workers had lost their jobs over the last five years.
Our study contemplates and foresees in the very near term the number of American lost jobs if America fails to move forward on trade could be 100 times larger, Chamber Vice President John Murphy said.
Trade Partnership Worldwide, an economic consulting firm that specializes in estimating the impact of trade policies, prepared the report for the business group.
Obama opposed the Colombia and South Korea agreements during last year's campaign but has promised to push for their approval once a number of concerns raised by his fellow Democrats are addressed.
The U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement was signed nearly three years ago in November 2006. The pact with South Korea was signed in July 2007, as was a third deal with Panama that Obama also has not yet sent to Congress for a vote.
Since then, Canada has completed its own free trade agreement with Colombia and the European Union has reached a free trade pact with South Korea, both of which could be implemented in the coming year.
The EU also is in talks with Colombia on a deal.
U.S. failure to approve the deals with Colombia and South Korea could lead to a decline of $40.2 billion in U.S. exports of goods and services and U.S. national output failing to grow by $44.8 billion in the next year or two as Canada and the EU fill the trade gap left by the United States, the study said.
Buy American provisions of the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress earlier this year were another big source of potential job losses, the study said.
If other countries retaliate by shutting American companies out of just 1 percent of their domestic stimulus programs, the net employment loss to the United States from the Recovery Act's Buy American provisions could total 176,800. In the event retaliation escalates, U.S. job losses will mount dramatically, the study said.
Lastly, the Obama administration's failure to resolve a cross-border trucking dispute with Mexico threatens another 25,600 U.S. jobs, the study said.
It based that on the impact of retaliatory duties imposed by Mexico in March and higher shipping costs associating with transferring cargo from Mexican to U.S. trucks.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Eric Beech)