Cat chairman attends White House ceremony

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Caterpillar Inc. was one of the chief corporations pushing for the recently signed free trade agreements between the United States and Colombia, Panama and South Korea. It was perhaps fitting, then, that the Peoria-based company was part of the signing ceremony at the White House on Friday.

Doug Oberhelman, chairman of Caterpillar, was among a select group invited to see President Barack Obama sign the free trade agreements into law during the ceremony in the White House rose garden.

Oberhelman praised President Obama and members of Congress for giving bipartisan support to the agreements.

"Caterpillar exported nearly $13.5 billion in products from the United States in 2010 — supporting thousands of jobs — and we continue to have strong exports again this year," Oberhelman said. "These agreements will make Caterpillar products more competitive in Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which we believe will lead to more exports to those countries while supporting American jobs."

Caterpillar has been a long-time advocate of free trade agreements and was instrumental in supporting the passage of FTAs with Colombia, Panama and South Korea as well as previous FTAs with Mexico, Chile, Central America, the Dominican Republic and Peru.

Since those agreements went into effect, Caterpillar exports have increased substantially to those regions of the world — up fivefold to Mexico, threefold to Chile and up by more than 60 percent to Peru.

The trade agreement with Panama eliminates tariffs ranging from 3 to 10 percent on Caterpillar products exported from the United States. Additionally, the trade agreement with Colombia eliminates tariffs ranging from 5 to 10 percent.

"Passage of these FTAs is tangible proof that Washington can work together in a bipartisan manner for the good of the country and I hope this leads to a greater level of civility," Oberhelman said. "This enhances our ability to sell more mining trucks, large motor graders and scrapers made in Decatur and track-type tractors made in East Peoria to Panama for the canal expansion and to Colombia to support mining customers, just to name two examples."

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said Friday there are no other pending free trade agreements the company is concerned with but that it does believe it is critical for the stalled Doha round of the World Trade Organization negotiations on free trade to make program. The talks, which began in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, stalled in 2008 because the parties could not reach agreement on agriculture exports.

Achieving a "well-rounded policy on free trade" would be better for the overall world economy, Dugan said.

Several countries have called for resumption of the Doha round but that has not yet occurred.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).