Bloomberg News

Obama Submits Pending Free-Trade Agreements to Congress

October 03, 2011

(Updates with Donohue comments in 11th paragraph.)

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama sent pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress after lawmakers created a path for renewing benefits for workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition.

The trade accords reached under President George W. Bush and revised by Obama had been stymied in a stalemate with House Republicans over the aid, called Trade Adjustment Assistance.

“We’ve worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses,” Obama said today in a statement. “I call on Congress to pass them without delay, along with the bipartisan agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance that will help workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition.”

The Senate voted to extend the aid on Sept. 22, and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would consider the worker assistance in tandem with the trade deals after the Obama administration sent up the measures. The House Rules Committee is meeting today to set guidelines for a vote on the program. Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who heads the Ways and Means Committee, said he plans to hold a hearing Oct. 5 to prepare the bills for debate.

Boehner welcomed Obama’s submission of the trade accords.

“We have overcome a crucial hurdle to helping put Americans back to work,” Boehner said today in an e-mailed statement. “Now that all three agreements have been transmitted, they will be a top priority for the House.”

Exports Boosted

The South Korea deal, the biggest since the North American Free Trade Agreement, would boost U.S. exports by as much as $10.9 billion in the first year in which it’s in full effect, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The accord with Colombia would increase exports by as much as $1.1 billion a year.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the trade agreements will prevent the loss of 380,000 jobs. The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions, said they will lead to a decline in U.S. manufacturing as jobs move overseas. Labor leaders said they plan to protest the trade agreements at a rally outside the Capitol tomorrow.

Representative Mike Michaud, a Maine Democrat who heads the House Trade Working Group, a coalition made up mostly of Democrats who question the value of free-trade accords, plans to build “the broadest coalition possible” to oppose the three agreements, Ed Gilman, a spokesman, said in an e-mail last month.

Fruits, Nuts

The South Korea agreement would remove duties on almost two-thirds of U.S. farm exports immediately, benefiting producers of meat, dairy, vegetables, and fruits and nuts. It would also phase out tariffs on more than 95 percent of industrial and consumer exports within five years, increasing market access for chemical, automobile, medical device and drug companies. Banks and communications companies would gain new opportunities through reductions in regulatory barriers.

“America is finally getting back in the game,” Tom Donohue, chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “The Chamber will pull out all of the stops to get the votes in Congress, where the agreements already enjoy bipartisan support.”

The worker aid compromise that the House will consider was reached by Camp and Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat. It would extend benefits, including those for service workers that expired in February, through 2013 while cutting the weeks of extended unemployment insurance that participants can receive to 130 from 156, and reducing the health-care tax credit for people enrolled in the program. The bill would also eliminate a program that helps communities affected by trade.

“We must take every opportunity to get America back to work, and Congress should pass these agreements without delay,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. “Taken together, the pending trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance advance a balanced trade agenda that opens new markets for our exporters and new opportunities for America’s working families.”

--Editors: Steve Geimann, Joe Winski

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net


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