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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7492
JPY
USD
102.27
GBP
USD
0.5960
CAD
USD
1.0950
INR
USD
61.300

Rates may not be current.