President Barack Obama will sign into law legislation for the South Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements on Oct. 21, along with a measure renewing aid for workers hurt by foreign competition.
Business and union leaders will join Obama in the Rose Garden after the bills are signed in the Oval Office, the White House said today in a statement. The South Korea accord is the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994.
The deals passed Congress last week more than four years after they were reached. Obama spent his first two years in office expanding Democratic support for the deals. He negotiated new terms for auto tariffs from South Korea that won over the United Auto Workers union, a tax-information exchange with Panama and labor-rights assurances from Colombia.
“We think it’s fantastic that just a week after they were passed they’re being signed,” Doug Goudie, director of international trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, said today in a phone interview. “We hope implementation proceeds just as quickly. We’re thrilled this is happening. It’s time to get these things moving.”
The South Korea agreement will remove duties on almost two-thirds of American farm exports, and phase out tariffs on more than 95 percent of industrial and consumer exports within five years. The deal also may provide impetus to Obama’s Pacific trade initiative, which Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is considering joining.
The South Korea deal would boost American 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 as much as $1.1 billion a year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the agreements will prevent the loss of 380,000 jobs.
Companies such as Ace Ltd., Citigroup Inc. and Pfizer Inc. led the effort to pass the South Korea deal, while Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. were among the biggest backers of the accord with Colombia.
The trade deals were opposed by groups including the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation and a frequent Democratic ally. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had urged lawmakers to reject them, saying in an Oct. 4 speech in Washington that they are “lousy” deals and will destroy 159,000 jobs by encouraging companies to send work overseas.
Obama is seeking to double American exports by 2015, in part through boosting shipments to Asian nations. Nine nations are involved in negotiating the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade accord.