Congress cleared legislation for U.S. free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that lawmakers said will boost U.S. exports by about $13 billion. The measures now go to the president.
“These free-trade agreements will give our economy a much-needed shot in the arm and create tens of thousands of American jobs,” Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who leads the Senate Finance Committee, said today in an e-mailed statement. “Passage of these agreements today is a significant victory for American workers and businesses, and will help create jobs here at home.”
The accords, reached under President George W. Bush and revised by the Obama administration, were 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. The House voted 307-122 to pass the worker-aid legislation.
“We want America to compete and win, and today’s action shows our friends and allies around the world that America is leading again by resurrecting a robust trade agenda,” Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who leads the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an e-mailed statement.
The House and Senate passed the agreements as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited Washington. Lee, who is to address Congress tomorrow, said the trade accord will create “good, decent jobs” that will help spur both economies.
The Senate voted 83-15 for the South Korea agreement, 77-22 on the Panama accord, and 66-33 on Colombia. The House voted 278-151 for the South Korea agreement, 300-129 for the Panama deal and 262-167 to pass legislation on the Colombia accord. The trade legislation now goes to Obama for his signature.
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.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions and a frequent Democratic ally, had 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.