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Published October 17, 2011, 05:25 AM

Trade deals ready for approval

WASHINGTON — After years of negotiations and discussion, free trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama got congressional approval Oct. 13 and are expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — After years of negotiations and discussion, free trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama got congressional approval Oct. 13 and are expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.

“Combined, the three FTAs represent nearly $2.5 billion in new agriculture exports for America’s farmers and are expected to create economic growth that could generate support for up to 22,500 U.S. jobs,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman, one of the strongest advocates for the agreements. “Over the past four years, Korea, Colombia and Panama have opened their doors to our competitors,” Stallman explained. “Congress and the administration have now given us the opportunity to improve our competitive position in these markets. The economic growth generated from the agreements will improve our economy and create jobs here at home,” he said.

Majority support

Other farm groups such as R-CALF USA and the National Family Farm Coalition fought against the agreements.

The South Korea deal passed the Senate by a vote of 83-15, the Panama deal passed 77-22, and the Colombia agreement, often considered the most controversial of the three, also passed with a solid majority with a vote of 66-33, National Journal Daily reported.

Earlier, the House had approved the bills, with South Korea receiving a vote of 278-151, Panama 300-129 and Colombia 262-167.

“The landmark trade agreements and assistance for American workers that passed . . . are a major win for American workers and businesses,” said Obama, who had insisted on changes to the agreements negotiated by the Bush administration and the reauthorization of trade adjustment assistance for American workers and farmers hurt by trade.

“I’ve fought to make sure that these trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama deliver the best possible deal for our country, and I’ve insisted that we do more to help American workers who have been affected by global competition,” Obama said.

The vote, “with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label ‘Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property,” Obama said. “American automakers, farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, including many small businesses, will be able to compete and win in new markets. I look forward to signing these agreements, which will help achieve my goal of doubling American exports and keeping America competitive in the 21st century.”

Win for farmers, ranchers

After a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Obama told reporters, “We agreed to move ahead quickly with the landmark trade agreement that Congress passed . . . and which I’ll sign in the coming days. It’s a win for both our countries. For our farmers and ranchers here in the United States, it will increase exports of agricultural products.”

Obama and Lee also noted that the agreement will strengthen the larger security relationship between the two countries.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in an interview in the White House press briefing room that the road to approval had been long and difficult because “Americans had lost faith (in trade.) They didn’t understand it. They thought of us getting cheaper consumers goods (but with) jobs going elsewhere.”

With so much of the world’s population outside the United States, Kirk said, the Obama administration couldn’t disengage from trade negotiations, but needed to improve the deals.

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