WASHINGTON — U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, under increasing pressure from House Republicans, told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday the Obama administration plans to send the South Korea Free Trade Agreement to Congress in a few weeks and also intensify negotiations on languishing trade pacts with Panama and Colombia.
Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.), while praising the decision to send the South Korean deal to Congress, continued to step up public pressure on the White House to give a concrete timeline for the Colombia and Panama pacts to be sent to sent to the Hill. “Where is the path forward for these agreements?” Camp asked. “Why isn’t there a clear identification of the outstanding issues, an outline of reasonable steps that must be taken to address those issues, a time frame for a resolution and a commitment to action?” Kirk said the administration hopes to secure Congressional approval of the South Korean trade deal by the spring and will “continue to work to address outstanding concerns relating to the Panama and Colombia trade agreements.” “If we are successful, we will move those forward, as well,” he said. “I can tell you today that the President has directed me to immediately intensify engagement with Colombia and Panama with the objective of resolving the outstanding issues as soon as possible this year and bringing those agreements to Congress for consideration immediately thereafter.”
Kirk said there is a significant difference between the market access issues the administration worked out to win support for a revised trade deal with South Korea from U.S. auto companies and some auto unions and “fundamental worker’s rights violations” in Colombia and Panama. He acknowledged there has been progress with Colombia and Panama, but said there continues to be a “divergence” of opinion among the committee’s members and stakeholders on how much progress has been made to adhere to core international labor standards in both countries.
“We are going to do everything we can to expedite this,” Kirk said.
The U.S. signed all three trade agreements in 2007 during the Bush administration, but weren’t ratified before President Bush left office. The U.S. International Trade Commission has estimated that enactment of the three trade deals would lead to a combined increase in U.S. exports of at least $13 billion.
Kirk said the administration also has made progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade accord being negotiated between the U.S., Brunei, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Peru and Chile and Singapore. The administration also plans to work with Congress to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations status in support of the country’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization.