Congress Set to Approve Trade Deals with South Korea, Panama, Colombia

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 4:05 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Congress is expected to pass three long-delayed free trade agreements Wednesday that supporters say will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday approved the trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, clearing the way for their final approval in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The deals are expected to easily pass both chambers, after years of political wrangling.

President Barack Obama has long called on Congress to pass the agreements, which he says will create tens of thousands of American jobs.

The agreements initially were signed during the administration of President George W. Bush, but ran into Democratic opposition shortly after President Obama took office.

The Obama administration renegotiated the agreements after Democrats expressed concern about Colombia’s history of violence against labor activists, as well as accusations of money laundering in Panama. The South Korean agreement was held up due to concerns about opening South Korea’s automobile market to U.S. cars.

Wednesday’s vote comes as South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak is set to fly to Washington for a visit expected to highlight trade relations between the two countries.

On Friday, Mr. Obama and Mr. Lee plan to visit Detroit, Michigan, the home of America’s automobile industry.

The agreement between the United States and South Korea is set to become the largest U.S. trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed with Mexico and Canada in 1995.