CHICAGO (jGLi) – When U.S. Congress passed more than a week ago the United States free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, I had a mixed feeling of enjoyment and depression.
Actually, I feel envious that these countries that don’t have any “special” relations with the U.S. were able to wangle new trade partnerships with the U.S. that can stimulate their economies and put people back to work.
With only 22 working days prior to the adjournment of the 112th U.S. Congress for 2011, I have a feeling the “Save Our Industries Act (S. 1244) and counterpart measure in the U.S. House of Representatives H.R. 2387 will likely be doomed.
Even if Philippine President Noy-Noy Aquino would be lucky to have a one-on-one summit with President Obama between Nov. 7-13 during the APEC 2011 Leaders’ Week in Honolulu, Hawaii, I have reservations if Mr. Aquino will be able to calendar the Save Act in his conversation with Mr. Obama.
No doubt, a public endorsement by Mr. Obama for the passage in Congress of the bill that would promote increased trade in the apparel and textile sectors that was introduced by Representatives Jim McDermott [Dem.-WA-7th] and Brian P. Bilbray [R-CA-50] and Sen. Daniel Inouye [Dem.-HI] would pick up additional sponsorships from both chambers. But would the impact of such endorsement gather enough momentum to pick up enough votes sufficient for its passage?
It is very unlikely. Considering that the bill in the House is still mired in subcommittee of trade with 14 cosponsors while its counterpart bill in the Senate has so far gotten the support of only three senators, namely Senators Daniel K. Akaka [Dem.-HI], Sen. Roy Blunt [R-MO] and Sen. Harry Reid [Dem.-NV], and is still lounging in the Senate Committee on Finance. It will need 218 votes in House for it to pass or 290 votes for supermajority (two-thirds) without debate. It will need 51 votes for the Senate to pass and 60 votes or three-fifths votes without filibuster.
In an unfortunate turn of events, the replacement of the workhorse behind the Save Act in Chicago, Philippine Trade & Investment Representative Glenn Guieb Penaranda, who was suddenly recalled to Manila to be promoted as Assistant Secretary of Trade, did not really make sense as Penaranda was pulled out from the middle of the battlefield in the guise of being “termed out” from his six-year tour of duty. The unassuming yet workaholic Penaranda deserved an extension of his service in Chicago until the Save Act was done.
In a letter to Filipino Americans, Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. appealed to them to write their corresponding Congressmen and Senators to pass the bill that would allow Philippine-made apparel using U.S. fabrics to enter the U.S. duty free.
Mr. Cuisia said the Save Act would expand U.S. export of fabrics to the Philippines from $11 million today to up to $500 million annually within 3-5 years of implementation and save/create some 3,000 jobs in the U.S. textile industry. It would restore hundreds of thousands of apparel manufacturing jobs and over $1 billion of Philippine apparel exports to the U.S. lost since the lifting of the U.S. apparel import quotas and the resulting dominance of China of the U.S. market.
PHILIPPINES LOSES PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT
Echoing the words of endorsement of Rep. McDermott for the Save Act that “The Philippines is a strategic partner and close ally. Our workforces stand together and are mutually dependent,” Ambassador Ronald J. Sorini of the Sorini Samet & Associates LLC believes that if Cambodia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Vietnam are getting preferential treatments from the U.S., why not the Philippines, which has a long historic ties with the U.S.? Mr. Sorini, who is lobbying for the passage of the Save Act, believes that the Filipino American community can make a difference. They should be persistent by writing letters, emails, making phone calls to their congressmen and senators. They should not take no for an answer. They should not give up. They should come back or call back two or three times and make their case.
With Senators Reid and Inouye behind the Save Act, Fil Ams should claw their way and reach out to Sen. Richard Durbin [Dem.-IL], the highest-ranking senator next to Sen. Reid, who could help pass the bill.
In one of the visits of supporters of the Save Act with the office of Rep. Jan Schakowsky [Dem.-IL-9th], Ms. Margarita Dela Rama, President of the Garment Buyers Association of the Philippines, and Ms. Maria Teresita Jocson-Agoncillo, Executive Director of the Confederation of Garment Exporters of the Philippines, were pleasantly surprised when they were asked about the “human rights issues, the Maguindanao massacre and Hacienda Luisita.”
LOBBYISTS SHOULD BE ARMED WITH RIGHT ARGUMENTS
For his part, Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim told a group of lobbyists for the Save Act that if some congressional staffers will raise human rights issue because their Congressmen are passionate with human rights, lobbyists should “be armed with the right arguments – that the Philippines is complying with international labor standards and human rights treaties and are cognizant of the plights of journalists, the Maguindanao massacre and Hacienda Luisita.”
Although disheartened by the response of Sen. Bill Nelson [Dem.-FL] when she visited him in his Washington, D.C. office, Ms. De la Rama said she is still holding out hope that Sen. Nelson would endorse the Save Act when the Mr. Nelson told her he may consider the bill after going over the “reading materials.”
Fil Am leader Jerry Clarito suggested that the four-million Fil Ams should be a big help in lobbying for the passage of the Save Act, “after all, congressmen will be asking for their votes during elections.”
Ms. Jocson-Agoncillo for her part believed that if the U.S. Congress passed the trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, it means Congress is upbeat and would pave the way for the passage of the Save Act this year.
And with Congressman Manny Pacquiao rallying behind the Save Act, this bill should pick up additional key supports in the U.S. Congress as Atty. Adrian Tabangay, president of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Chicago, listened approvingly, if not helplessly. (firstname.lastname@example.org)