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Congress Approves Free-Trade Pacts With Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Congress Approves Free-Trade Pacts With Colombia, Panama, and South Ko...

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Congress Approves Free-Trade Pacts With Colombia, Panama, and South Korea


A freighter is docked at the Red Hook Terminal in the Brooklyn borough of New York in 2010.(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Correction: A previous version of this report transposed the House vote totals for the Panama and South Korea trade deals. The Panama pact vote was 300-129; the South Korea pact vote was 278-151.

After months of political fights, the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea all were approved in both the House and the Senate on Wednesday evening.


All three deals passed with solid majorities in both chambers. The South Korea deal passed the Senate by a vote of 83 to 15, and the Panama deal passed 77 to 22. The agreement with Colombia, often considered the most controversial of the three, also passed with a solid majority with a vote of 66 to 33.

The House approved the bills earlier in the evening with Korea receiving a vote of 278-151; Panama passed 300-129; and Colombia was approved by a strong margin of 262-167

Now that both chambers have ratified the pacts, they will be sent to President Obama to be signed. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled to visit the White House on Thursday before attending a joint session of Congress later in the afternoon.


"I look forward to signing these agreements, which will help achieve my goal of doubling American exports and keeping America competitive in the 21st century," Obama said in a statement.

Taken together, the three deals represent the largest free-trade agreement since Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Overall, trade in goods with the three partner countries totaled more than $84 billion in the first seven months of 2011, according to the Census Bureau. The pacts will provide U.S. companies greater access to all three markets as soon as the deals enter into force later this year.

The Colombia deal overcame Democratic opposition based on ongoing labor- and human-rights violations, including a last-minute motion by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., to send the bill back to committee. Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a separate labor action plan to address those concerns.

Many lawmakers and business leaders seized on the overwhelming bipartisan support for the deals to call on Congress to find a path forward this year.


“Let’s make the approval of these agreements a foundation for moving bipartisan, job-creating policies forward,” said Tom Donohue, the CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, opponents of the deals, including Lori Wallach, of the liberal group Public Citizen, pointed out that many Democrats still voted against the package.

“Today a larger share of House Democrats voted against a Democratic president on trade than ever before,” Wallach said.

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One point of easy agreement in the House was the final passage of a bill to reauthorize Trade Adjustment Assistance and the Generalized System of Preferences. Funding for the retraining package to aid U.S. workers displaced by trade imbalances expired earlier this year and became a crucial bargaining chip in the fight to bring the trade deals up for a vote. 

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