U.S. Trying to Resolve Obstacles to Free Trade Pacts

May 20, 2009
Working on agreements with Panama, Columbia, South Korea

The U.S. is working on finalizing a free trade agreement with Panama and resolve outstanding issues over similar long-delayed pacts with Colombia and South Korea, Trade Representative Ron Kirkthe said earlier this week week.

The agreements with the three U.S. allies were clinched during the administration of President Barack Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush but had been held up due to opposition from the Democratic-controlled Congress. Kirk said that the administration saw all three pacts as "important" and would strive to finalize them although "trade is really a tough sell" in Congress as the U.S. reeled from prolonged recession.

"On Panama, its no secret that we've been working very hard with the Panamanian government in recent weeks to resolve outstanding issues so that this free trade agreement can be sent up to our Congress for consideration," he said."We have had very productive discussions on both labor and international tax issues and our efforts are continuing," he said.

The pact with Panama was delayed by U.S. concerns over that country's tax and labor laws and the one with Colombia over claims that the country is doing too little to stem deadly violence against trade unionists.

The U.S.-South Korea agreement has been held up over U.S. demands for greater auto access as well as beef issues. The US-South Korea free trade pact is the largest for the U.S. since it signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.

On the free trade deal with Colombia, whose drug problems have also raised concerns among some lawmakers, Kirk said Obama had tasked him with conducting a "thorough review" of the agreement and "finding a way forward."That work is actively in progress," he said, adding that he had "very productive meetings" with his Colombian counterpart toward that end. "If a U.S.-Colombia trade agreement is done well, it can provide a strong incentive for Colombia and other countries seeking to diversify their economies beyond the drug trade that plagues a number of nations across the Americas -- even as we open up a significant new market for U.S. exporters," he said.

The U.S.-South Korea free trade pact is the largest for the U.S. since it signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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