Congress voted for three long-stalled trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea on Wednesday. The White House and Republican leadership in the House pushed aggressively for the passage of these trade agreements, asserting that they will help create jobs by promoting U.S. exports to those nations. The Obama Administration has said that approval of the three pacts could increase U.S. exports by at least $13 billion:
The House voted 262-167 to pass the Colombia agreement (HR 3078), with 158 Democrats and nine Republicans voting in opposition. Upon implementation, nearly three-quarters of Colombia’s tariff lines will become duty-free for U.S. exports. While Democrats recognized the potential positive impacts of the agreement, most resisted support for the agreement because of their long-standing concerns about violence against Colombian labor leaders.
House lawmakers voted 300-129 to pass the Panama deal (HR 3079), which will allow more than 87 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Panama to become duty-free immediately, with remaining tariffs phased out over the next ten years. This is intended to even the trade imbalance with Panama, whereby Panama currently exports its goods almost totally duty-free, while U.S. industrial and consumer products going to Panama face an average duty of seven percent and agricultural imports from the U.S. face an average tariff of 15 percent.
South Korea Agreement
The House backed the South Korea agreement 278-151. The pact will eliminate tariffs on more than 95 percent of U.S. exports of industrial and consumer goods to South Korea within the first five years. It is expected to be especially beneficial to car manufacturers by lifting barriers to U.S. automobile trade with South Korea. The Obama Administration estimates that the pact with South Korea alone could create as many 280,000 new jobs.
In addition to passing the above trade bills, Congress also sent to the President’s desk a worker training bill intended to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade agreements.