Three Trade Deals Approved by Congress

October 18, 2011

The months-long fight over trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea cleared a crucial hurdle on Oct. 12 when the House and the Senate approved all three deals.

The deals were reached nearly four years ago but faced a great deal of controversy. President Barack Obama spent his first two years in office expanding Democratic support for the deals, and negotiated new terms for auto tariffs from South Korea, a tax-information exchange with Panama and labor-rights assurances from Colombia.

As these bills each contain revenue elements, they were first passed in the House and then moved onto the Senate for consideration. Each bill easily passed, including the controversial pact with Colombia (H.R. 3078) that was approved 262 to 167. The popular deal with South Korea (H.R. 3080) passed by an overwhelming vote of 300 to 129, while Panama (H.R. 3079), the smallest and least controversial of the pacts was easily approved by a margin of 278 to 151.

The Senate tally was 83 to 15 on the South Korea bill, 66 to 33 on the Columbia measure, and 77to 22 on the Panama agreement.

The House also voted 307-122 to concur with a Senate amendment to the House-passed bill extending the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP measure was used as a vehicle for the Senate amendment that would renew lapsed provisions of assistance for workers adversely affected by trade.

The three deals, which would boost U.S. exports by $13 billion, comprise the largest free trade agreement since Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Overall trade in goods with the three partner countries totaled more than $84 billion in the first seven months of 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The pacts will provide U.S. companies greater access to all three markets as soon as the deals go into effect later this year.

President Barack Obama will sign into law the three pacts on Oct. 21, along with a measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which renews aid for workers hurt by foreign competition. The TAA program was expanded two years ago as part of Obama’s stimulus package to include aid for more displaced workers, but the expansion expired in February. The extension agreed to in negotiations is smaller than the 2009 package and would continue through 2013.

NSBA is pleased that Congress has approved these trade agreements as they will boost American exports and support American jobs.