Published October 03, 2011
WASHINGTON -- The White House sent three long-delayed trade agreements to Congress on Monday, putting the deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama on a path toward final passage after years of political limbo.
In a statement, President Obama said the deals would make it easier for U.S. companies to sell their products overseas, and he called on Congress to approve the agreements without delay.
"These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America," he said.
The president has made the trade pacts a centerpiece of his economic agenda, saying that the agreements would boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually.
On the substance of the trade pacts, Republican lawmakers have long agreed with Obama. But the two sides were locked in procedural fights for months, delaying implementation of the agreements.
The White House had held off sending Congress the final legislation until the Senate approved an assistance package to train workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The Senate eventually passed the Trade Adjustment Assistance package last month, in coordination with the White House.
Administration officials said the only obstacle that remained was assurances from the House that it too planned to take up the worker's assistance program.
On Monday afternoon, the House removed that final obstacle and announced that it planned to take up TAA. Just a few hours later, the White House formally submitted the agreements.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, applauded the move but said the delay was "unacceptably long and likely cost jobs." He vowed to make passage of the agreements a top priority for the House.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he expected the House to pass the trade deals next week.
The White House had been hoping to show significant progress on final passage by the time South Korea's president arrives at the White House for a state dinner on Oct. 13. The South Korea deal is by far the largest of the agreements, and the administration says it could support up to 70,000 jobs.
The step won the White House praise from the business community, which has strongly backed the trade deals.
"America is finally getting back in the game," said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "These agreements are about creating jobs and ensuring a level playing field for trade."
The U.S. signed the trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia in 2007 under President George W. Bush. But the Democratic-controlled Congress never brought the agreements up for a vote, giving the Obama administration time to renegotiate areas it found objectionable.
U.S. trade officials spent months negotiating outstanding issues on the pacts, reaching an agreement with South Korea in December. The pact would boost U.S. exports by $11 billion a year, according to the administration.
Deals were struck last spring with Panama, one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies, and Colombia. The administration says a final pact with Colombia will boost U.S. exports by more than $1 billion per year.