Bloomberg News

Congress Ready to Vote on Three Free-Trade Accords Within Week

October 06, 2011

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Congress is prepared to vote in less than a week on free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that were reached more than four years ago.

The Senate may act on Oct. 12, the eve of a state visit by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech on the floor today. The House plans to vote the same day, according to a Republican leadership aide who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

White House Chief of Staff William Daley urged lawmakers to finish work on the pacts next week and renew aid for workers hurt by foreign competition, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, calling the measures an “essential piece of the president’s jobs agenda.” President Barack Obama sent Congress legislation for the trade accords on Oct. 3 after House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would consider the worker assistance in tandem with the trade deals.

“We need to get all four elements of this package -- the three trade deals and TAA -- across the finish line next week,” Daley told representatives of companies including Ford Motor Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. at a fund-raising dinner for the National Foreign Trade Council’s educational foundation.

The Senate Finance Committee today scheduled an Oct. 11 hearing on the accords. The House Rules committee today backed limiting debate on the bills to 90 minutes each and barred amendments to the worker-aid bill.

Plea Against Bickering

Daley said he expects the worker-aid program, which has been opposed by some Republicans, to receive a House vote on Oct. 12 and that “we hope to see continuing bipartisan support for a good plan and that we do not see the sort of bickering and partisanship that seems to have taken over this town on so many issues.”

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 House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance the accords yesterday.

Obama spent two years after taking office seeking to broaden Democratic support for the trade accords. He negotiated new terms for auto tariffs in the South Korea agreement that won over the United Auto Workers union, a deal on exchanging tax information with Panama and labor-rights assurances from Colombia. Companies from Caterpillar Inc. to General Electric Co. have lobbied for the agreements to increase market access.

Job Gains, Losses

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the trade agreements will prevent the loss of 380,000 jobs. The pacts will destroy 159,000 jobs by encouraging companies to send work overseas, according to the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation.

While Daley said the South Korea agreement will support 70,000 U.S. jobs and open markets to boost American competitiveness, he said businesses should push for Congress to approve the worker assistance to help people who become unemployed because of trade deals. Business groups such as the Chamber have backed the renewal of worker aid.

“Those of us who believe trade is worth fighting for must fight equally hard for the program of TAA,” Daley said. “I hope we can continue to work together to break through this ridiculous gridlock in Washington.”

--With assistance from James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak

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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