TAA passes, Congress waits for free trade agreements from the White House

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The Senate on Thursday approved a bill 70 to 27 that should clear the way for the Obama Administration to send legislative language for three long-pending free trade agreements to Congress for approval.

The bill passed extends the generalized system of preferences (GSP) and provides assistance for U.S. workers who are hurt economically by trade agreements, known as trade adjustment assistance (TAA).

Senator John Hoeven says the passage TAA  should clear the way for implementation of three, long-pending free trade agreements that will mean billions in economic activity for American farms and businesses, and hundreds of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers.

“Now that TAA has been approved, the President needs to send these three trade agreements to Congress for approval as soon as possible,” Hoeven said. “At a time when unemployment is still over 9 percent and the American economy is flagging, these three trade agreements combined are expected to generate more than $13 billion in increased economic activity for U.S. manufacturers, farmers and ranchers and create more than 250,000 American jobs.”

In a letter to President Barack Obama in July, Hoeven and 11 other Republican senators urged the Administration to forward the agreements to the U.S. Congress for approval. In return, the senators agreed to support the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill.

The Obama Administration has required TAA approval before submission of the three agreements, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which were negotiated during the last Bush Administration.

This position has been supported by some Congressional Democrats but was a non-starter for many Congressional Republicans.

To overcome the impasse, lawmakers have worked out a complex but seemingly workable compromise, in which the House passed GSP; the Senate took up the House bill with a TAA amendment; and now the entire measure is set to be sent back to the House.

It is expected to meet approval there, but will not be enrolled – or made ready for the President Barack Obama’s signature – until the FTAs are in play, so both pieces will move simultaneously but not attached together.

Despite different priorities for trade policy and the compromise’s complexity, Senators seem willing to hew to it, giving hope it will soon lead to submission of the FTAs.

A vote early in the week on a motion to end debate on the GSP measure passed 82 to 8 vote, showing strong bipartisan support for established process. The body has also rejected amendments, including adding trade promotion authority to the bill, because that could have upset the delicate process.

When enacted, the Korean agreement alone will eliminate or reduce tariffs on U.S. autos, manufactured goods, and agricultural products to South Korea, and eliminate more than 85 percent of the tariffs between the United States and the Republic of Korea. It would also phase out a 40 percent Korean tariff on American beef over 10 years, making it more affordable to consumers and more cost effective for producers. In addition, it would open new markets for American services in South Korea. The total economic activity generated by the Korean agreement alone is projected to be $10 billion.

Source: NAWG and the office of Senator Hoeven

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