Free Trade Agreements Could Support 70,000 Jobs
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have broken a stalemate that could clear the way for Congress to vote on three key free trade agreements, according to congressional officials and business representatives briefed on the plan.
The deal would allow for a renewal of retraining assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, or TAA, would be included in legislation on a coveted trade deal with South Korea.
The White House had threatened to hold up passage of the South Korea pact, along with trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, unless the retraining assistance was renewed.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made.
President Barack Obama frequently cites the three trade pacts as deals that would give a boost to the U.S. economy, in part by making overseas markets more widely available to American companies.
A congressional official said Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan and Montana's Democratic Sen. Max Baucus were instrumental in striking the deal.
The assistance 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. Labor unions and some key Democratic lawmakers have demanded the expansion as a condition for supporting the trade deals.
While Republicans have typically been supportive of the TAA program, several GOP lawmakers had expressed concerns that the level of spending under the 2009 expansion is no longer sustainable given the Capitol Hill negotiations on debt and deficit.
The U.S. signed the trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia in 2007 under President George W. Bush. But the then-Democratic-led Congress never brought the agreements up for vote, giving the Obama administration time to renegotiate areas it found objectionable.
U.S. trade officials spent months negotiating outstanding issues on the pacts, reaching an agreement with South Korea in December. The pact would support up to 70,000 U.S. jobs, according to the administration.
Deals were struck this spring with Panama and Colombia, though all three agreements need congressional approval before they can be implemented.