WASHINGTON — The White House and a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers struck a deal on Tuesday to advance three long-stalled, pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
The compromise will also include renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps U.S. workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition, as well as two other trade preference programs that had expired: the Generalized System of Preferences, and a preference program that gives duty free benefits to Andean countries.
The broad agreement breaks a deadlock between the White House and Congressional Republicans, which had stalled the three trade deals for several weeks, even after the Obama administration resolved outstanding issues with South Korea on U.S. auto exports and beef, and with Colombia on reducing violence against union members.
The fashion industry has a lot at stake in two of the three trade deals. Importers support all three and say they could boost business of apparel production in South Korea and Colombia, in particular. The textile industry and its allies on Capitol Hill have vowed to vigorously oppose the deal with South Korea, arguing that it could send a flood of textile imports to the U.S., many of which could potentially be transshipped through China.
The pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama represent a combined total of $1.1 billion in apparel and textile imports shipped to the U.S. in 2010.
Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, scheduled a “mock markup” of three separate draft bills for South Korea, Panama and Colombia on Thursday.
Under “fast-track” authority, Congress cannot amend trade deals, but the committees with jurisdiction can hold informal markups to consider and approve proposed amendments that are then considered by the administration before the president formally submits final legislation to Congress for an up or down vote. Congress has 90 days to consider the final legislation once the administration submits it formally.
Administration officials said the TAA program will be attached to the South Korea trade deal and move as one package, while the GSP and Andean preference programs will be attached to the Colombia free trade agreement and move as a separate package. The trade deal with Panama will also move separately.
“These free trade agreements, together with Trade Adjustment Assistance, will boost our economy by billions of dollars and create new jobs and opportunities here at home,” said Baucus. “We think this package can get the support needed to become law.”
Jay Carney, White House press secretary said: “As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA. The President embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class. Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs.”
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, “President Obama has made sure that these deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are fairer for American workers and businesses, hold our partners accountable to keep their promises and also reflect core American values on key issues like worker rights and protections. These agreements will help to boost U.S. exports and support tens of thousands of American jobs, and we are committed to their passage.”