Republicans Press Obama on Stalled Trade Deals

The accords could generate jobs, say supporters of free-trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

A group of U.S. President Barack Obama's sharpest congressional critics urged him in a letter released Friday to revive stalled free trade pacts with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea in early 2010.

The accords, which have languished amid stiff opposition from Democrats and their labor-union allies, could generate jobs at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at a quarter-century high, the Republican lawmakers wrote.

"In the interest of supporting American job creation, we ask that you jump-start the implementation process through your leadership," said the group, led by Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner.

The lawmakers called on Obama to promote the accords in his annual State of the Union speech -- typically in late January -- and pledged "to work steadfastly with you to implement each of these agreements as close to the start of next year as possible."

The message came two days after Obama told top lawmakers of both major U.S. parties from the Senate and House of Representatives in private talks that he supported moving forward with the stalled trade deals, one participant said.

Republican Representative Eric Cantor, who signed the letter, said on Thursday that Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had pledged at the meeting to make the accords "a priority" come January. Hoyer spokesman Katie Grant denied that account, saying that the Democratic leader "said we should pursue them, but he did not mention a timeline."

Democrats and labor unions have opposed the agreements on human rights grounds or because they view them as insufficiently opening overseas markets to U.S. goods or as hurting U.S. industries.

The accords cannot go into force unless they win U.S. congressional approval.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

TAGS: Trade
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