Congress Passes Delayed Trade Agreements, Presidential Signature Imminent

After years of languishing and political one-upmanship on both sides of the political aisle, three Free Trade Agreement (FTAs) were passed Wednesday by both houses of Congress and awaits what should be a rapid signature by President Barack Obama.

Approval of the FTAs with South Korea, Panama and Colombia has long been seen as important to boost business for U.S.-based companies feeling the pinch of lower domestic demand. The FTAs, in theory, will significantly expand U.S. exports in those markets, help small businesses and lower tariffs on American goods.

Getting the measure through though has seen supporters and opponents alike coming from both political parties as the idea of job protectionism divided lawmakers more on regional lines than the usual partisan ones.

Obama submitted the nation's three pending free trade agreements (FTAs) to Congress earlier last week amid growing support for the measures. Obama, branded by some in the past as anti-business, has become increasingly pro-exporting and is in the midst of a federal push to double exports within five years.

Congressional leaders have been quick to laud the FTAs’ passage while lamenting the lengthy delay between their creation and their submission for approval. Among reasons for disappointment is that other agreements that, despite being started at a later date, were enacted months before Wednesday’s eventual positive vote. Among them was a European Union deal with South Korea.

Submission of the FTAs by the president was previously contingent on Congress' renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which trade workers perceived to be negatively affected by international competition. After a pared-down version of the TAA was approved in the Senate, however, the president submitted the agreements to the House, which somewhat begrudgingly followed through on the TAA renewal in addition to the FTAs.

Brian Shappell and Jacob Barron, NACM staff writers

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