December 3, 2020

Gains on Colombia Send Trade Pacts to Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — Progress on a free trade deal with Colombia has cleared the way for the White House to seek Congressional approval of a package of trade agreements that includes pacts with South Korea and Panama, as Republicans have demanded.

Obama administration officials said Wednesday that they expected technical discussions about the agreements to begin Thursday with Capitol Hill aides, the first step in the approval process.

President Obama has made increasing American trade a top goal of his economic agenda. The White House had hoped for quick approval of the largest deal, the South Korean agreement signed last December, but Republican lawmakers threatened to block it unless the White House also completed negotiations with Panama and Colombia.

After months of talks, the administration settled with Panama last month after the Panamanian government passed a law permitting greater tax transparency.

Officials from Washington and Bogotá reached a tentative agreement in early April, when Colombia outlined steps it would take to address American concerns over its high rates of violence involving labor leaders and union members. But the administration decided to wait until April 22, when the first of those steps took effect, before sending the agreement to Congress.

In a letter to lawmakers Wednesday, Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative, said that while Colombia had more work to do, it was effectively putting in place the initial phases of the agreements on labor. Therefore, Mr. Kirk said, the administration felt confident in starting talks with lawmakers.

The House speaker, John A. Boehner, who has long pushed the president to send Congress all three trade deals together, applauded Wednesday’s announcement.

“Now it’s time we move to expand market access for American-made goods in all three of these nations,” said Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

The administration also said it would act on concerns over access for American beef producers to the beef market in South Korea, an important issue for Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and other lawmakers.

The Agriculture Department will spend more to promote United States beef sales in South Korea and Mr. Kirk will request additional consultations with the South Koreans on opening their market once the free trade agreement takes full effect.

Mr. Baucus has demanded that South Korea allow the United States to export beef from older cows. South Korea is reluctant, partly because of concerns over outbreaks of mad cow disease several years ago.

The South Korea deal would support up to 70,000 jobs in the United States, the Obama administration said.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a180abdaeab51eb00cd56a95c87fd1aa

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