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Congress Urged to Expedite Process for Korea FTA's Ratification
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The Obama administration Wednesday urged Congress to begin consultations with administration officials for early ratification of the pending free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.


   Speaking to reporters on a conference call, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk dismissed calls by some Republicans to present the Korea FTA together with similar deals with Colombia and Panama.


   "We are now in a position we can have a conversation with Congress on when would be the best time to move forward with Colombia, with Korea and very soon, we hope, to be in that same position with Panama," Kirk said. "So that timing will be driven by other conversations with Congress."


   Kirk made his remarks while announcing a new deal with Colombia on labor rights, which have served as a stumbling block to the deal's congressional approval since its signing in 2007.


   Washington and Bogota have agreed on an "Action Plan Related to Labor Rights that will lead to greatly enhanced labor rights in Colombia and clear the way for the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement to move forward to Congress," Kirk said.


   Congress has not yet begun consultations on the Korea FTA with administration officials, seen as a precondition for the administration's submission of the deal to Congress.


   Some Republican congressmen threaten to block the deal unless it is submitted concurrently with deals with Colombia and Panama.


   "It has never been the administration's insistence that the three agreements be considered as a package," Kirk said. "In fact, we have advocated since we concluded the agreements with Korea that that agreement should move forward. And we have expressed our intent and desire that we were ready to engage Congress in the process as dictated by trade promotion authority to do that."


   Washington struck a new deal with Seoul in December to address U.S. concerns over lopsided auto trade, the biggest hurdle to congressional approval.


   The revised deal, yet to be submitted to Congress, calls for a delayed phase-out of auto tariffs, among others, in return for Washington's concessions on pork and medicine.


   The Korea FTA was negotiated under the Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, which requires Congress to vote yes or no without amendments within 90 days of the deal's submission.


   "There is no legal authority under trade promotion authority as it exists for Panama, Colombia and Korea to bundle in one vehicle and have a quote, unquote, 'omnibus trade bill' with one vote, if that's what you mean by 'package'," Kirk said.


   Kirk has said the Obama administration will submit the Korea FTA first, and called on Congress to approve it "this spring" so as not to lag behind the European Union, which ratified a similar deal with Seoul set to take effect in July.


   Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser, also said the administration has "reached agreement with Panama over the last several weeks about a number of actions that they agreed to take both in the labor area and in the area of a tax agreement."


   "Those labor provisions are now law in Panama, as of yesterday, and they have submitted their tax information exchange agreement to their congress for ratification, which we expect to happen in the coming days," Froman said. "That will complete the issues that need to be dealt with, that we can move that one forward."


   The South Korean National Assembly is waiting for the U.S. Congress to approve the Korea FTA first to facilitate its ratification in South Korea, where the liberal major opposition party fears an adverse impact on the agricultural industry.


   Obama has said the Korea FTA will support more than 70,000 jobs and help double U.S. exports within five years as the world's biggest economy struggles to escape the recession that began in late 2008, the worst in decades.


   The International Trade Commission (ITC) has estimated that the Korea FTA would annually add 10 to $12 billion to U.S. GDP and roughly $10 billion to our exports to Korea.


   U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue, meanwhile, called for early ratification of all three pending free trade pacts.


   "The Chamber will work closely with the White House and Congress to secure approval of the three pending free trade agreements in the weeks ahead," Donohue said. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce applauded today's announcement that the United States has reached an agreement with Colombia on labor and judicial reforms that will open the door for Congressional approval of the long-pending U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement."


Source: Yonhap News (April 6, 2011)

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