Obama Should Move Korea Trade Deal Before Colombia, Levin Says

March 29 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic Representative Sander Levin urged President Barack Obama to send a pending free-trade agreement with South Korea to Congress “immediately,” and not wait for accords with Colombia and Panama.

While Republicans such as Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah say they won’t approve the Korea agreement unless the other two move ahead as well, Levin of Michigan said it’s a mistake to link the different deals.

“The administration should hold its ground and insist on movement of each of the various pieces of the trade agenda only as they are ready for action,” Levin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said today in prepared remarks for a speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The Obama administration is waiting for Panama to ratify tax and labor changes it says are necessary before that pact can be approved. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office is also negotiating labor-rights provisions with Colombia.

The three agreements, signed under President George W. Bush, have stalled while the administration and Democrats in Congress worked out changes they said were necessary.

South Korea is the biggest prize for U.S. companies, as trade with that nation topped $87 billion in 2010. The South Korean deal would increase exports of U.S. goods by $10.9 billion a year when the agreement is in full effect, while the accord with Colombia would boost exports by $1.1 billion, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net; Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net