New Momentum Seen for Free Trade Deals

Congress may soon forge a compromise on legislation to open free trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea — legislation that a group of Democratic and Republican governors advocated months ago.

The Associated Press reports that momentum is building on Capitol Hill for a GOP-backed bill that would allow free trade with the three emerging economies. But the bill also would include a Democratic-backed initiative — known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance program — that would benefit American workers who lose their jobs as a result of increased foreign competition.

The compromise approach is the same one that Democratic and Republican governors from 23 states and two territories outlined in a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders on May 23.

The deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, the governors wrote, are necessary "to achieve greater economic prosperity through international trade." Meanwhile, they wrote, including the Trade Adjustment Assistance program would "help American workers adapt to changes in the global marketplace and assist them in securing new opportunities in which they can excel."

The free trade deals at issue have languished in Congress since 2006 amid partisan squabbling, with many Democrats contending the agreements would do more harm than good to the U.S. economy. But with national unemployment at 9.1 percent and lawmakers from both parties under pressure to address the crisis, support for increasing trade has grown, and Obama pitched the compromise approach in his September 8 jobs speech to Congress.

"It's time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama and Colombia and South Korea while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition," the president said . "If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers."

For some state officials, the stakes are high. Florida Governor Rick Scott, for instance, has noted that Colombia is now Florida's second-biggest trade partner after Brazil, taking in more than $2.5 billion worth of Florida goods in 2010. Panama's total was $1.25 billion. Lifting trade restrictions, Scott argues, will enhance "Florida's unique economic relationship" with those nations.

Tags: Economy