DETROIT (WWJ/AP) –Members of the U.S. House and Senate are preparing to approve three free trade agreements that advocates say will boost exports, give the economy a needed shot in the arm and help put Americans back to work.
The trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are being trumpeted as economic victories by President Barack Obama and most congressional Republicans. Democrats, traditionally wary of free trade, are more ambivalent, but all three pacts are expected to pass easily when they come up in Congress on Wednesday.
The Korea Free Trade Agreement with the United States could have a positive impact, says Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin, particularly if it opens up the Korean market to our automobiles.
Levin, who spoke earlier this week in Detroit, said right now the discrimination against American automobiles in Korea is blatant.
“We believe this trade agreement, because of some of the language that’s in it relative to autos in particular, are the reasons why the UAW supports the Korean trade agreement. I will be voting for the Korean trade agreement because I think it is better than the status quo in terms of getting our vehicles and manufactured goods into Korea,” Levin said.
But, on the Columbia Free Trade agreement Senator Levin is voting no because the plan doesn’t contain important guarantees…
The deal with South Korea alone is the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1995. The White House says together the three agreements will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion and create tens of thousands of jobs.
The three deals were initially signed during the George W. Bush presidency but have been stalled, first by the then-Democratic majorities in Congress and later by Obama’s insistence that elements of the pacts be renegotiated.
In the past year the administration has succeeded in winning concessions from South Korea to open up its markets further to U.S. vehicles and concluded an agreement to bring transparency to banking practices in Panama, known as a tax haven.
It has also prodded Colombia into putting together a Labor Action Plan designed to protect labor rights and crack down on violence against labor leaders.
But, to the frustration of Republicans and business groups complaining that American businesses were losing out because of the administration’s slow pace, the White House also delayed sending the three agreements to Congress until it received assurances that Congress would extend expired provisions of a program that helps workers displaced by foreign competition with retraining and financial assistance.
The Senate last month passed those extensions of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the House plans to vote on it Wednesday along with the free trade agreements.
The United States has free trade relations with 17 nations. The last free trade agreement was completed in 2007 with Peru. It could still take several months to work out the final formalities before the current agreements go into force. The Korean parliament is expected to sign off on its agreement this month.
The administration says the agreement with Korea, America’s seventh-largest trading partner, will increase U.S. exports by more than $10 billion and support 70,000 American jobs. It would make 95 percent of American consumer and industrial goods duty free within five years.
The agreement, the White House said in a statement, will give American businesses, farmers, workers, ranchers, manufacturers, investors and service providers “unprecedented access to Korea’s nearly $1 trillion economy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.