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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. electronic companies with combined annual sales of $160 billion urged Congress on Wednesday to approve four pending free trade agreements, which they said were vital to continued economic growth.
"Free trade has built up this industry," said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, which has more than 2,100 members ranging from big names like Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Sony Corp (6758.T), Intel Corp (INTC.O), Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) to hundreds of smaller companies with less $30 million in annual sales.
"We think it's absolutely critical that the U.S. maintain this strategy of free trade and continue the momentum that free trade agreements allow," Shapiro said.
Although Congress is expected to soon approve a free trade pact with Peru, many Democrats are strongly opposed to similar deals with Colombia and South Korea. They criticize Colombia's record on human rights and say the auto provisions of the Korean pact would too heavily favor Seoul.
In addition, concerns have arisen in recent weeks about a deal with Panama after legislator Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who is wanted in the United States on charges that he killed a U.S. soldier, was elected head of Panama's National Assembly.
The CEA has decided to step up efforts to win approval of the four pacts because there is a growing perception "that free trade is not good for America," Shapiro said.
The consumer electronics industry employs around 2 million Americans "and we believe that hundreds of thousands of those jobs are based on free trade," Shapiro said.
Mark Luden, chief executive officer of Guitammer Co, said his small Westerville, Ohio company, which manufactures the "Buttkicker" home stereo speaker, depends on open markets at home and abroad for its existence.
"Without the ability to import product and export, we wouldn't have a company," Luden said.
Lawmakers also need to consider the wider implications of rejecting any of the free trade pacts, said John Shalam, chairman of Audiovox Corp (VOXX.O), based in Hauppauge, New York.
"We need all the help we can get politically in South America today" because of challenges from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and others in region, Shalam said.
Average Americans benefit from free trade because it allows electronics companies to sell "very high quality products with many, many good features at very, very low and attractive prices," Shalam said.
Reporting by Doug Palmer