The Obama administration hopes to send all three pending free trade agreements — Colombia, Panama, and Korea — to Congress before the August recess.
Initially, the plan had been to try for Congressional approval of the Korea trade pact first because it would have the greatest economic impact and then submit the Panama and Colombia accords later.
But Kevin Sullivan, the state department’s point man on economic policy in the Western Hemisphere, said in a recent interview that the plan is now to send all three agreements to Congress separately but over the next few months. Technical discussions on the trade pacts are now going on at the Congressional staff level.
“Now it seems like the stars are in alignment — it’s that important to us,’’ said Sullivan.
The administration, he said, wants to submit the agreements as part of a broader trade initiative that includes renewal of trade adjustment assistance as well as reinstatement of the Andean Trade Preferences Act, and the expired Generalized System of Preferences, which extends duty-free treatment to several thousand products imported into the United States from countries around the world.
The ATPA , which must be periodically renewed and expired Feb. 12, is especially important to South Florida because it allowed duty-free access of Andean products such as flowers from Colombia and Ecuador. Miami is the flower import capital of the nation, and local importers have had to pay duties since the eclipse of the ATPA..
Sullivan was in South Florida earlier this month to drum up support for the Obama trade initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports by 2014 in an effort to create more jobs for U.S. workers.
He said he found a receptive audience. “People are very excited to hear things are moving forward,’’ Sullivan said.
The South Florida Republican Congressional delegation has advocated quicker action on the trade pacts with Colombia and Panama, which were both negotiated several years ago.
But there have been sticking points for both agreements.
Labor unionists and human rights groups have complained that the Colombia agreement didn’t do enough to protect union leaders and labor activists against violence and threats in a country that is one of the most dangerous in the world for organized labor.
In April, the U.S. and Colombia agreed on a plan to address such concerns with specific deadlines for meeting benchmarks.
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