U.S. group says confident of trade deals approval

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 12:38 PM
U.S. group says confident of trade deals approval

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. business group on Thursday said it expected President Barack Obama and Congress to work together to approve three long-delayed free trade agreements in the next six to eight weeks.

"We're confident we'll get this done," said John Murphy, vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has clashed with Obama on issues like health care and financial regulatory reform.

Murphy told reporters the business group has been laying the groundwork for years for votes on the trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which together are expected to boost U.S. exports by about $13 billion.

He declined to give a vote tally, but said the business group knew where most lawmakers stood on the pacts.

The chamber will make a push to ensure the deals are approved before Obama hosts an annual meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific region in mid-November, Murphy said.

Meanwhile, chief executives of Microsoft, GE, Wal-Mart, IBM, Cargill, MetLife and other top-tier U.S. companies called on Obama and Congress to pass the agreements "as soon as possible in September."

"With the EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement and the Canada-Colombia FTA having gone into effect this summer ... U.S. goods, services, and farm exports are losing ground every day to exports from these countries," the business leaders said in an open letter.

Obama is expected to mention the trade agreements tonight in a speech to Congress outlining his ideas to create jobs.

Each pact was signed more than four years ago during the administration of former President George W. Bush, who was unable to win their approval before leaving office.

Republicans broadly support the agreements and over the past year Obama has negotiated with each of the countries to address concerns raised by Democrats.

Still, Obama has irritated Republicans in recent months by calling on lawmakers to approve the deals, even though he has not formally submitted them to Congress for a vote.

The White House has delayed that step, waiting for a clearer signal from Republicans in the House of Representatives that a worker retraining bill called Trade Adjustment Assistance will be approved.

Murphy said he believed a "pathway" was emerging that would lead to approval of three trade deals and TAA.

He emphasized the Chamber of Commerce supports a bipartisan TAA compromise negotiated by the White House and two key members of the House and the Senate.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Doina Chiacu)