US Congress Approves Trade Deals with South Korea, Panama, Colombia

Posted October 12th, 2011 at 8:35 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Congress has approved free trade agreements that supporters say will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually.

Members of the House of Representatives voted by a comfortable margin Wednesday in favor of the agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Later in the day, the Senate also overwhelmingly approved the trade pacts.

All three were negotiated nearly five years ago, during the administration of George W. Bush. They passed Wednesday with support from both parties, although some Democrats objected, citing human rights concerns and fears that American jobs could be lost overseas.

Many lawmakers and President Barack Obama say the bill will help the U.S. economy. Mr. Obama has long called on Congress to pass the agreements, which he says will create tens of thousands of American jobs.

The agreements ran into Democratic opposition shortly after President Obama took office. His 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 by concerns about opening South Korea's automobile market to U.S. cars.

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