Administration to Advance Asia, Western Hemisphere Trade Deals

President Obama has supported the three free trade agreements as part of his larger plan to increase U.S. exports and decrease the economy’s reliance on consumerism. (AP images)

04 May 2011

Washington — Senior Obama administration officials say they are prepared to move forward on free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, deals one official says “are very much part of the president’s overall agenda of growing the economy, expanding exports and supporting jobs.”

Several senior administration officials held a background briefing on trade by conference call May 4.

“The [South] Korea agreement itself supports more than 70,000 U.S. jobs and is expected to increase exports by over $10 billion a year,” one official said, adding that deals with Colombia and Panama are also “very important” to meeting job creation and export expansion goals.

The official said the Obama administration views the agreements as a “critical part of our overall national export initiative and strategy, with the goal of doubling exports over the next five years.”

Another official added that the deals are “well-balanced agreements that address our core interests and our values,” and that benefit both the United States and its partners. For example, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has said South Korea, through a free trade pact, would secure increased investments in its $580 billion service industries, preferential access to the world’s largest consumer market and a tariff edge over global competitors.

Obama administration officials have said governments, businesses and civilians of the other two countries would share similar benefits.

The agreements would allow the United States to cooperate with three very diverse economies, each contributing to the U.S. economy in a unique way, according to one official on the call. In addition to job creation from the South Korea agreement and a potential boost in U.S. gross domestic product from the Colombian deal, the official said Panama offers the potential of major infrastructure projects, as well as a significant market for U.S. exports and service providers.

The officials said the next step to formalizing the deals will be to meet with congressional staff for consultations.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk sent a letter to Congress May 4 saying that based on discussions with Colombian leaders and progress made since the last talks on issues such as labor rights, the United States is now ready to move toward formalizing the trade pact. The other two countries have also made changes in preparation for enactment of the agreements.

The officials said Senator Max Baucus (Democrat from Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has announced his support for moving forward with all three free trade agreements.

An official said that with these steps, the Obama administration “now will begin to initiate that legislative process toward approval of all three.”