News / Economy

Officials See Possible Progress on Long-Delayed US Free-Trade Pacts

From left:, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Capitol Hill (file photo)
From left:, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Capitol Hill (file photo)
Michael Bowman

The Obama administration says it is ready to push for congressional approval of a free-trade accord with South Korea, but has lingering concerns about deals struck with Colombia and Panama by the former Bush Administration.  On Capitol Hill, there is general agreement on the benefits of trade and an overwhelming desire to expand American exports and boost job creation.  But sharp disagreements persist on the conditions the United States should place on trading partners.

In a speech Monday to U.S. business leaders, President Barack Obama repeated his commitment to advance free-trade agreements that have been awaiting congressional approval for years.  Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, pounced on the comment.

"The president says he wants to double U.S. exports in five years," said McConnell. "Free-trade agreements with Colombia and Panama would go a long way toward meeting that goal.  Creating jobs right here in America by opening markets in Latin America."

Democrats say they, too, want to expand trade.  But many, like Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, are non-committal about voting for specific trade agreements.

"One of the ways we are going to grow our way out of the economic recession we have been in is to have fair but open trade agreements," said Udall. "And I would welcome the opportunity to look at the three outstanding trade agreements - [South] Korea, Panama and Colombia.   I have not made a determination whether I would vote for them or not.  But let us at least bring them to the floor of the Senate."

President Obama’s top trade negotiator says the administration will submit the South Korea Free Trade Agreement to Congress in coming weeks.  The pact is expected to receive strong bipartisan support in both chambers.

Appearing on Capitol Hill, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said work remains to be done on two other trade deals.

"We want to work to address outstanding concerns relating to the Panama and Colombia trade agreements," said Kirk. "If we are successful, we will move these forward, as well."

Kirk said the administration wants to see progress on labor rights in Colombia and tax regulations in Panama before trade pacts are approved.

The concerns surrounding Colombia are well-known to human-rights advocates.  Gimena Sanchez of the Washington Office on Latin America says Colombian labor leaders are often targeted by paramilitary groups backed by business interests - a situation she says the United States should not reward with expanded trade.

"Labor-rights concerns, unless they are addressed, are going to continue or get worse," said Sanchez. "And that is going to implicate the Untied States."

But Colombia’s government insists the nation has made great strides in human rights and labor protections.  This week, the Colombian Embassy in Washington released a statement accusing free-trade opponents of clinging to "old arguments based on Colombia’s past".

Meanwhile, congressional backers of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement accuse the Obama administration of needlessly delaying improved U.S. access to lucrative foreign markets.  Republican Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska:

"In a much-touted speech to the Chamber of Commerce, the president talked about ‘pursuing’ the Colombia trade agreement," said Johanns. "I ask the question: what on earth is left to pursue?  The agreement was signed nearly five years ago.  It is ready for approval.  And if the president thinks there was more ‘pursuing’ to do, what have we been waiting for the last couple of years?"

But Democrats point out that trade deals can be improved.  Representative Sander Levin of Michigan praised President Obama for insisting on greater U.S. access to South Korea’s domestic car market than was afforded by the original agreement reached during the Bush administration.

"The way it was negotiated, it [the original deal] did not assure access to the [South Korean] market for our automotive goods," said Levin. "Hyundai has 1,500 dealerships here.  Ford has one [in South Korea]. If the Republicans had had their way, we would have approved the Korea Free Trade Agreement having a major part of our economy shut out from their market, when they had complete access to ours."

Majority votes in both houses of Congress are required to approve trade agreements.  House Speaker John Boehner has said Republicans stand ready to vote on the three pending accords.  A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells VOA that votes will be scheduled in the upper chamber once the Obama administration presents the trade pacts to Congress.

You May Like

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8905
JPY
USD
120.20
GBP
USD
0.6541
CAD
USD
1.3262
INR
USD
66.242

Rates may not be current.