White House, Congress Reach Deals on Key Trade Pacts

Senate begins hammering out details of trade deals with South Korea, Columbia and Panama.

The White House and top lawmakers have reached a deal to allow stalled trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to move ahead in Congress, officials said Tuesday.

The deal will allow a Senate panel to start work on the deals today.

The White House said a breakthrough on a program that compensates workers hurt by free trade unblocked the logjam.

The White House had insisted on renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program as a condition for moving forward on the deals, drawing Republican fire that it was blocking vital free-trade agreements with U.S. partners.

"As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"President Obama has fought for an ambitious trade agenda that doubles exports in five years, levels the playing field for American workers, and reflects American values.

"The president embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class," he continued.

"Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs."

Trade organizations and free-trade advocates had been cranking up pressure on the White House to move on the deals before campaigning for the 2012 election gets under way in earnest.

The deals may offer a boost to Obama's efforts to double U.S. exports and create jobs in a sluggish economy with unemployment pegged at 9.1%, a perilous political reality for the president.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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