Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are on course to get final congressional passage as soon as today, more than four years after they were negotiated.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 18-6 yesterday to send the deal with Colombia to the floor, and advanced the South Korea and Panama accords by voice vote. The House Ways and Means Committee backed bills for the agreements on Oct. 5, and that chamber may vote as early as today.
The accords, reached under President George W. Bush and revised by the Obama administration, had been stymied in a stalemate with Republicans over aid for workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. President Barack Obama submitted legislation on Oct. 3 after House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would consider the worker assistance in tandem with the trade deals.
“These agreements are fairly one-sided in our favor,” said Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. “They actually open up markets that have been closed to us and even a playing field that has been uneven against us for a long time.”
The House and Senate may vote on the trade agreement while South Korean President Lee Myung Bak is to be in Washington. Lee is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress tomorrow.
Senate Democrats on the committee opposing the Colombia accord included Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Menendez said the pact fails to protect organized labor leaders from assassination because labor-rights assurances won from the South American nation, known as the Action Plan, weren’t included in the bill.
“If you’re a labor leader in Colombia, you’re likely to die,” Menendez said. “I cannot in good conscience support the Colombia agreement and I will be voting against it.”
The hearing was interrupted at least three times by protesters shouting criticisms of the agreements, including “free trade kills jobs” and Colombia “kills union leaders.” At least four people were removed from the room and handcuffed by police in the hallway.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions and a frequent Democratic ally, has urged lawmakers to oppose the Colombia deal, saying the nation remains the world’s most dangerous for workers. Fifty-one Colombian union members were killed last year, up from 47 in 2009, according to the National Union School, a labor- rights organization based in Medellin, Colombia.
The three trade pacts are “lousy” deals that will destroy 159,000 jobs by encouraging companies to send work overseas, Trumka said on Oct. 4 in a Washington speech. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the trade agreements will prevent the loss of 380,000 jobs.
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.
--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert
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