Tuesday, May 26, 2015

U.S. House, Senate Pass Free Trade Agreements With South Korea, Colombia, Panama

By Len Bracken and Rossella Brevetti

Successive floor votes Oct. 12 by the House and Senate ratified the pending free trade agreements with Korea (H.R. 3080), Colombia (H.R. 3078), and Panama (H.R. 3079), clearing their way for presidential signature.

Because these bills implementing the agreements contain revenue elements, they were passed first in the House (Korea 278-151; Colombia 262-167; and Panama 300-129). The Senate passed the Korea FTA by a vote of 83-15; Colombia 66-33; and Panama 77-22.

The House also voted 307-122 to concur with a Senate amendment to the House-passed bill extending the Generalized System of Preferences (H.R. 2832). The GSP measure was used as a vehicle for the Senate amendment that would renew lapsed provisions of assistance for workers adversely affected by trade.

The three FTAs were negotiated by the Bush administration and have been bottled up in Congress for years due to concerns of congressional Democrats and later the Obama administration on auto and beef trade with Korea, worker rights and violence against trade unionists in Colombia, and labor rights and tax transparency in Panama. The Obama administration negotiated additional commitments with the three countries on these issues, including a wide-ranging action plan with specified benchmarks on labor rights with Colombia.

A House motion to recommit the Colombia FTA, offered by Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) with instructions to add the House legislation aimed at Chinese currency manipulation, was defeated largely along party lines, 192-236.

The House began debate late Oct. 11 for 30 minutes on each of the four bills following a vote on the rule for their floor consideration.

In the Senate debate on Oct. 12, supporters of the pacts hailed their job-creating potential, citing an administration estimate that implementation would create 250,000 new jobs.

However, opponents such as Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said that past experience shows that trade-related job expansion has been an unfilled promise to the people of Pennsylvania and across the country. Casey also charged that South Korea has engaged in currency manipulation.

Next Step TPP?

Several senators, including Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a former U.S. trade representative, criticized the Obama administration for not negotiating any new bilateral agreements since coming into office.

The administration is continuing negotiations launched by the Bush administration on a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that once the pacts are approved, the United States should invite the new FTA partners to join the TPP negotiations. “We need to extend these negotiations to create even more jobs in America. Colombia, Panama and South Korea have clearly demonstrated their ability to make the far-reaching commitments that our trade agreements require,” Baucus said.

The participation of these new FTA partners in the TPP negotiations would help achieve a high-standard, 21st century agreement that spans the Pacific, Baucus said…

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