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Obama Urges Passage of Free Trade Deals

The Republican congressman whose committee oversees U.S. trade policy says Congress should act on pending free trade agreements within six months. Congressman Dave Camp says ratification of the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama is a "sure fire way" to create American jobs by growing U.S. exports. President Barack Obama made the same case during his State of the Union address Tuesday night when he urged a divided Congress to look for bipartisan solutions to grow the U.S. economy.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama repeated his goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014. "Because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home," he said.

The president says doubling U.S. exports would create as many as two million jobs. But despite reaching agreement with South Korea last month on a free trade pact to reduce tariffs on U.S. automobiles and beef, lawmakers have been slow to act. "This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible," he said.

The bipartisan push the president is seeking could come from House Republicans.

On Tuesday, Representative Dave Camp, who chairs the committee that oversees international trade , urged ratification of all pending free trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, within six months. "This deadline isn't being driven by politics or posturing, it's driven by the need to create jobs for American workers. The three trade agreements are a sure fire way to create American jobs by growing U.S. exports of goods and services and does not require one dime of new government spending," Camp said.

Camp says the South Korean agreement alone could create up to 70,000 jobs. But Democratic co-chair Sander Levin says a slower approach will lead to better deals. "Trade agreements need to be shaped so that as trade expands the benefits are spread more broadly," Levin said.

But business representatives who testified on Capitol Hill expressed frustration.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Robert Stalman says every $1billion in new exports supports 9,000 jobs in the U.S.. "Combined, these agreements represent almost $3 billion in trade for U.S. agricultural producers, but only if they are implemented," Stalman said.

To make their case, free trade advocates cited a labor union report from 2009, showing South Korea exported nearly 500,000 cars to the United States -- while American automakers exported fewer than 6,000 cars to South Korea.

FedEx International Chief Michael Ducker says more delays will hurt the U.S.. "While we delay, others are moving because their calculators work the same way that ours do in terms of the numbers and the economic power that exists in global trade," he said.

To underscore the urgency, business representatives say the European Union is set to finalize a comprehensive free trade agreement with South Korea later this year.