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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9220
JPY
USD
119.88
GBP
USD
0.6757
CAD
USD
1.2640
INR
USD
62.626

Rates may not be current.