Public Hammers Senator Over Korea FTA

They were part of several "viewing parties" scattered across the state - including the Northern Panhandle and north central West Virginia - featuring community and business leaders who'd been invited to watch the live proceedings. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who chairs the committee, said the hearing resulted from conversations he'd had with residents about the need to improve manufacturing and exporting in the state while also promoting job growth. "One potential solution keeps coming up: increase exports," Rockefeller said. "West Virginia companies can grow if we increase our customer base. If we export our goods to more countries and find more customers abroad, our companies will grow and more workers will be hired." The hearing record will remain open for a while to give concerned citizens an opportunity to submit their comments to his office, Rockefeller said. His sentiment was shared by others who testified on a number of related issues, including how state companies and workers will fare in the new global economic market, as well as government programs aimed at encouraging their participation. While there was general agreement on the importance of exports and the need to compete internationally, the issue of free trade agreements prompted some difference of agreement among panelists. Suresh Kumar, assistant secretary of commerce and director general for the federal Department of Commerce's U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, said state exports grew 34 percent in 2010 or double the national growth rate of 17 percent. Trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama are a priority with the Obama administration because of the potential employment and economic development impacts they will spur, Kumar said. West Virginia companies will share in those benefits, he said. The state's chemical and primary metal manufacturers will be helped by reduced tariffs, including some that will be eliminated over time, Kumar said. WV AFL-CIO Vice President Randy Moore, who is also an international representative of the United Steelworkers of America, agreed with Rockefeller that the state is losing manufacturing jobs - including losses to the automobile manufacturing sector. Moore said the losses were based on free trade issues and ineffective policies. He questioned the proposed trade agreements, saying, "We aren't against free trade, we're against unfair free trade." Recalling how many jobs had been lost in Kanawha County's "chemical valley" in the last decade, Moore said one international chief executive officer had praised the union, but also told him "we're going to China and there's nothing you can do about it." Steelworkers remain vulnerable, he said. "When you talk about the treaties that are coming up with those countries, the steelworkers alone have at risk over 350,000 jobs - especially with Korea as it relates to the metal and automotive industries, as well as the ancillary jobs that are tied to it," Moore said. "Why do we continue going down the same path until we can fix the path?" he said, adding that Columbia also has a "deplorable" record of humanitarian benefits. Rogers, who worked at the local General Motors plant and served as union president for three terms, is also a Martinsburg resident who has seen hundreds of jobs leave the area in recent years. "I am concerned because when you look back at history when we had a strong manufacturing base, we had a strong middle class. ... Since I grew up here, I can remember when the railroad was thriving as well the old Corning plant and 3M," said Rogers, who now serves as a UAW international representative. "But now there are so many jobs that are just service industry jobs and they don't pay a livable wage. Our concern is maintaining a strong middle class, and I'm seeing that slip away. And that should be very concerning to everybody," he said. Focusing on the nation's manufacturing sector should be a continuing priority said Collinson, who serves as UAW Local 1590 president. "We appreciate Senator Rockefeller's focus on 'made in America' because this is something the UAW has long tried to push," Collinson said. "Everyone is concerned about labor costs, but we need to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States, so people can make a decent living and have decent benefits that allow them to make purchases, both large and small," he said. Read original post here.