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US Trade Deals Delayed

President Barack Obama (file photo)

President Barack Obama (file photo)

The Obama administration has confirmed that it will delay sending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress until lawmakers return from a scheduled August recess. The White House and Republicans disagree over a program designed to help Americans who lose their jobs to overseas competition.

Putting the three trade deals into effect has been a White House priority almost since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

His predecessor, President George W. Bush, reached the agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Since then, the Obama administration has linked the deals with its efforts to revitalize the sluggish economic recovery, as the president said on July 8.

“Today, Congress can advance trade agreements that will help businesses sell more American-made goods and services to Asia and South America, supporting thousands of jobs here at home. That could be done right now,” Obama said.

Yet, the White House and Republicans in Congress have disagreed over several provisions of the deals.

The approval process stalled last month after Republicans opposed linking the agreements to an aid program for workers hurt by global competition. The White House wants to tie an extension of the program to the South Korea deal.

Because of the dispute, the administration has not formally submitted the three agreements to Congress.

Less than two weeks ago, on July 11, the president showed his impatience with lawmakers over the impasse.

“I still think we are going to have to do a whole bunch of stuff, including, for example, trade deals that are before Congress right now that could add tens of thousands of jobs. Republicans gave me this list, at the beginning of this year, as a priority, something that they thought they could do. Now I am ready to do it, and so far we have not gotten the kind of movement that I would have expected,” Obama said.

Administration officials have said the agreements must be approved soon, to prevent U.S. exporters from losing business to other countries pursuing their own deals with the three nations.

A free trade deal between South Korea and the European Union took effect recently. Colombia and Canada have an agreement which comes into force August 15.

President Obama has worked for several years to address complaints from his own Democratic Party about the three trade deals.

His administration has renegotiated parts of the South Korea agreement that relate to the auto industry. The White House also put together an agreement with Colombia to address concerns about labor rights and violence against union leaders.