U.S. Republicans demand action on trade pacts

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:32 PM
U.S. Republicans demand action on trade pacts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republicans on Monday pressed President Barack Obama for immediate action on three long-delayed trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that his administration says it wants to enact.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell will hold a press conference on Monday afternoon to pressure Obama to immediately send the pacts to Congress for a vote, aides said.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Rob Portman, who initiated talks on the South Korean agreement in 2006 when he was former President George W. Bush's trade representative, will also take part.

All three pacts were negotiated and signed when Bush was president, but have been stalled because of concerns raised by Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives from January 2007 through December 2010.

The editorial pages of both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on Monday also called for approval of all three trade deals.

After Republicans captured control of the House and narrowed the Democratic majority in the Senate in November elections, the Obama administration renegotiated the South Korean agreement to address U.S. auto industry concerns that the pact failed to tear down barriers that had long kept American cars out of that market.

Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the Senate Finance Committee the administration wanted to win approval of all three trade deals.

He also said the White House was ready to work with lawmakers on the implementing legislation for the South Korean pact, the largest of three accords.

However, Kirk frustrated Republicans by again saying more work was needed to resolve labor and violence concerns that have blocked approval of the Colombia pact, which is vehemently opposed by U.S. union groups.

A number of Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, also want action on three pacts.

Baucus said last week he thought the South Korea pact could fail unless it was packaged with the other two.

A senior Colombian team was in Washington last Thursday and Friday for talks with the Kirk's office and other Obama administration officials. The two sides agreed to meet again within two weeks to continue their discussions.

Kirk told the panel last week that the Panama agreement would be ready to go once that country implemented certain labor and tax information reforms.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech)