The Obama administration hopes to send trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress before the August recess, said a U.S. State Department advisor Sunday.
“Now it seems like the stars are in alignment — it’s that important to us,’’ economic advisor Kevin Sullivan told the Miami Herald.
The initial plan was to send only the South Korean trade agreement for congressional approval before the recess, but because discussions between the Obama administration and Republican legislatures about domestic job assistance programs have been “narrowed substantially,” informal debates in Congress are able to begin, said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Monday.
“We’re making good progress. Hopefully we can resolve the few outstanding differences,” said Kirk, a champion of the agreement with Colombia.
U.S. legislators are busy trying to reach an agreement on the Trade-Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that aims to provide aid and retraining to workers who lose their jobs as a result of increased imports before congressional debate on the FTA’s with Colombia, South Korea and Panama begin.
The chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady (R, TX), said last week that a panel would start informal debates on the deals this week. Brady was reportedly hopeful that an agreement on the TAA program would be reached before the committee began debating the FTA’s.
Trade Representative Kirk said he would prefer that informal debates over the trade deals begin after an agreement on the assistance program is reached.
Another stick in the spokes of the FTA passage has been the issue of labor rights in the Andean nation. According to the AFL-CIO, 51 trade unionists were assassinated last year.
Last Tuesday, the trade representative announced that Colombia had met several milestone labor and judicial reforms before the expected deadline and part of the trade pact will include criminal penalties for employers who undermine the rights of workers as well as the addition of 480 new labor inspectors including 100 this year.