Wednesday March 09, 2011 | 03:15 PM

 

 
Two Maine lawmakers weren’t happy with the testimony today of U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk before the Senate Finance Committee.
 
Some lawmakers who support pending free trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia expressed unhappiness with Kirk for what they consider the administration’s lack of progress on the latter two deals and willingness to hold up the South Korea pact as a result.
 
But Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a senior member of the finance committee, expressed unhappiness of a different sort. Snowe used the hearing to blast Kirk for what she considered the administration’s failure to address currency manipulation practices, particularly by China, that make it difficult for U.S. products to compete on a level price playing field.
 
That directly results in lost jobs at mills in Maine, Snowe charged. She wants the White House to agree that the president should certify, as a part of any trade agreement, that there has not been “governmental currency intervention or manipulation on the part of the parties involved in the agreement with the United States.
 
Kirk, per the administration’s official stance on the topic, agreed that currency manipulation is a problem but did not sign off on Snowe’s proposal.
 
Snowe says 650 jobs at the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills are endangered by Chinese and Indonesian currency manipulation.
 
“There is a definite correlation between foreign currency manipulation practices and the decimation of jobs nationwide, and the economic toll is indisputable.  In fact, one must look no further than the loss of 2 million jobs nationwide and 10,000 in Maine since China joined the World Trade Organization,” Snowe said in a statement.  “For all of our discussion on this critical issue of global competitiveness with various administration officials, these manipulative trade practices endure and have been a clear contributing factor to the withering of our once unparalleled manufacturing base.”
 
Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd District, a former mill worker himself and chairman of the House Trade Working Group comprised of lawmakers who believe current trade deals don’t benefit many U.S. workers, also blasted his fellow Democrat in the White House following the finance committee hearing.
 
“This administration never misses an opportunity to talk about its strong support of American workers. That’s why it’s so appalling that they’re pushing leftover Bush negotiated free trade agreements and negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the same failed model,” Michaud said. “We need to go in a new direction on trade and stop protecting corporate special interests at the expense of the American worker.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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