August 5, 2009 / 7:15 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. business groups eager to meet Obama on trade

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The leaders of six major U.S. business groups warned President Barack Obama on Wednesday the United States will pay a steep price if it does not lead on trade and asked for a meeting to discuss the issue with him.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy at the Monaco RV vehicle maker in Wakarusa, Indiana, August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

The request comes as Obama has yet to send Congress any of the trade deals his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, negotiated with Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

Obama also still has not announced a date for a speech promised since May to lay out his plans on trade.

“Failure to lead will be costly to the United States,” the heads of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Foreign Trade Council, the United States Council for International Business and the Emergency Committee for American Trade said in a letter.

“America’s future prosperity requires both domestic and international initiatives to grow the economy and promote American competitiveness and engagement in an increasingly interconnected world,” the groups said.

Since 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, it is important that Washington approve the three pending trade deals and then move on to other market-opening agreements, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, they said.

If not, U.S. farmers, manufacturers and service providers will continue to face significant trade barriers and be put at a disadvantage to foreign competitors “whose governments are negotiating agreements to ensure that their industries and workers have new market-opening opportunities,” they said.

A White House spokesman said they had no comment on the business leaders’ request for a meeting.

Obama has said he wants to work with Panama, Colombia and South Korea to address U.S. Democratic party concerns that have blocked approval of those bilateral trade deals.

He and a dozen other world leaders also recently agreed on a new deadline for finishing the nearly eight-year-old round of world trade talks by the end of 2010.

But since then, trade diplomats in Geneva have said there is little prospect for a deal until the United States shows more clearly it is ready to move.

White House deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs Michael Froman has sharply disputed the United States was dragging its feet in the Doha talks, saying efforts to advance the round had “come a fair distance over the last several months.”

Obama and other leaders agreed to intensify bilateral negotiations “between now and the G20 meeting in Pittsburg at the end of September with the goal of moving the Doha negotiations forward,” Froman said last month.

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