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Trade Deals Could Boost Texas Exports

Congress — including much of the Texas delegation — is poised to approve three trade agreements as soon as today that could boost the state’s exports.

An oil refinery is shown in the Houston Ship Channel in 2011.

Update, Oct. 13: Congress approved all three trade agreements on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised their passage.

"These deals will open doors to Texas exports and are welcome news to job creators who have waited too long for access to these markets," Cornyn said in a statement.

Original story: Congress — including much of the Texas delegation — is poised to approve three trade agreements as soon as today that could boost the state’s exports.

The U.S. Department of Commerce points to growth in Texas’s exports to Chile and Singapore as evidence that these long-delayed pacts with Panama, Colombia and South Korea have the potential to reap benefits for the state.

On paper, approval of the agreements could benefit several industries in Texas, said Elsie Echeverri-Carroll, a research scientist at the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas.

“[A]lthough oil is excluded from elimination of tariffs, supplies for this industry are not,” Echeverri-Carroll said in an email. “In this regards, one would expect that cities like Houston would benefit significantly from [an agreement] by providing more oil-specialized services and products to the Colombian oil industry.”

More computers, electronics and cotton could also head from Texas to Colombia as a result of the agreements, Echeverri-Carroll said.

Texas members of the Republican-controlled House said they were largely optimistic ahead of votes this week.

“Texas generally comes out ahead on the trade agreements that have been passed in the past,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, told the Tribune on Tuesday.

Burgess said he was still studying the South Korea agreement, which, like the others, has been delayed since they were reached during the George W. Bush administration. He said he would vote “yes” on Colombia and "possibly yes" on Panama.

“Colombia I’m inclined to support because, aside from the trade issues, there are certainly geopolitical considerations,” Burgess said. “They are down there in the neighborhood where we lack for friends … so there’s a lot of reasons to look favorably on the Colombia agreement.”

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said he was on board with all three agreements because they would create thousands of jobs — and because thousands more are supported by exports in his San Antonio district.

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, agreed, saying Texas’s agricultural exports could increase.

“The United States as a whole will benefit from a level playing field as we compete in the global market place,” Neugebauer said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, joined some in his party and labor groups in criticizing the agreements, however.

“At a time when 14 million Americans are out of work — one million in Texas alone — it is important that Congress not turn its back on our nation’s working families by voting for trade agreements that would hurt our domestic manufacturers,” Green said in a statement.

Indeed, pro-labor protesters reportedly interrupted a hearing on the agreements over concerns about lost jobs and workers’ safety in Colombia.

"A vote for these trade deals is a vote against American workers," Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa said in a statement. "These deals are nothing but giveaways and protections for the multinational corporations that Americans are protesting on Wall Street and in dozens of other cities."

Passage of the agreements is expected as soon as Wednesday.

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Congress Gene Green Lamar Smith Michael Burgess Texas congressional delegation