Congress approved free trade agreements Wednesday with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, ending a four-year drought in the forming of new trade partnerships and giving the White House and Capitol Hill the opportunity to show they can work together to stimulate the economy and put people back to work.
In rapid succession, the House and Senate voted on the three trade pacts, which the administration says could boost exports by $13 billion and support tens of thousands of American jobs. None of the votes were close, despite opposition from labor groups and other critics of free trade agreements who say they result in job losses and ignore labor rights problems in the partner countries.
"We don't do much around here that's bipartisan these days," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who was U.S. Trade Representative during the George W. Bush administration. "This is an example of where we can come together as Republicans and Democrats realizing that with 14 million Americans out of work, we need to do things to move our economy forward."
President Barack Obama said passage of the agreements was "a major win for American workers and businesses."
"Tonight's vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label `Made in America,' support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property. ... I look forward to signing these agreements."
The agreements would lower or eliminate tariffs that American exporters face in the three countries. They also take steps to better protect intellectual property and improve access for American investors in those countries. The last free trade agreement completed was with Peru in 2007.
The agreement with South Korea, the world's 13th largest economy, was the biggest such deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1994.
The votes were 278-151 for South Korea, 300-129 for Panama and 262-167 for Colombia. The Senate votes were 83-15 for Korea, 77-22 for Panama and 66-33 for Colombia.
AAPC releases statement on free trade agreements
The American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC) – representing its member companies Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company – applauds Congress for passing free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, as well as reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.
“In particular, we thank the administration and Congress for their hard work to improve the auto provisions of the Korea free trade agreement and for approving all three agreements,” AAPC President Matt Blunt said. “These free trade agreements will further open important markets for Chrysler, Ford and GM exports, and protect American jobs. Our companies make the best cars and trucks on the road and we are excited for the opportunities these agreements represent.”