Long-awaited Panama Trade Deal Moves Forward

The Obama administration has started the process of moving the Panama trade deal through Congress. U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk sent a letter to lawmakers Monday saying the deal is ready to move to the next step.

"I am pleased to report to you that the Office of the United States Trade Representative has completed its preparatory work on the Agreement and stands ready to begin technical discussions with Members of Congress on the draft implementing bill and draft Statement of Administrative Action," Kirk wrote to Chairmen ranking members to the key committees on Capitol Hill.

"We hope our discussions to review these documents can commence without delay so that we can work together to bring the benefits of this Agreement home to American businesses, farmers and workers," he added.

The long awaited agreement had stumbled for several years because of concerns that Panama was an illegal tax haven. Kirk said that after meeting with Panama's Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, commitments and actions had been addressed on the outstanding issues.

The Panama deal is the last of the remaining ones that former President George W. Bush started in 2007. The lapsed time in approval allowed the Obama administration to tweak the deal to its liking.

The Colombia one was most recently was hammered out within the last month after Colombia dealt with human rights concerns.

The Korean free trade deal was finalized late last year. Both are awaiting Congressional approval, with a goal of passing them by mid-summer.

Big business has generally been supportive of the deals, while unions haven't been so quick to embrace them.

The president is scheduled to meet with the Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli next week. They'll discuss this agreement among other items of interest to both nations. It will be their first meeting.

Republicans been supportive of the trade deals and have been placing their passage as a negotiating tactic to hold-up nominations and bills.

Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., reacted to the deal. "U.S. job creators and workers are every day put at a disadvantage to foreign competitors from countries that have already concluded trade agreements without us. The more we delay, the more we lose. The time to act is now," Camp said.

Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, urged moving the deal along swiftly. "I look forward to working with the Administration to ensure that all three of our pending trade agreements are considered by Congress by July 1. We are on the home stretch, and I welcome the opportunity to show the world that we once again have a market-opening trade agenda that creates U.S. jobs," Brady said.