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| 3/14/2011 12:00:00 AM

Time to act on free trade

March 14--U.S. agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama should be approved — soon.

THE POLITICS of free trade have never been easy for President Obama — and they appear to be getting harder. Mr. Obama wants congressional ratification of a tariff-slashing deal with South Korea, revising it recently to meet the objections of the U.S. auto industry and labor unions.
 
House Republicans favor the agreement but won’t consider it unless the president submits it along with two others, with Colombia and Panama, about which the president has hesitated for two years and still has doubts. The GOP got a boost of sorts when a bipartisan group of 16 former U.S. trade representatives and experts on Latin America recently urged the president to accelerate the Colombia and Panama pacts. On Wednesday the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, who supports voting on the Korea, Colombia and Panama deals together, warned the administration that its position is putting all three agreements at risk.
 
With so much support for the agreements in both parties, why is the administration asking for more time? The substantive issues that the president has raised — Colombia’s purported indifference to labor rights, Panama’s status as a tax haven — were never as serious as he contended, and are well on their way to resolution. No one even tries to deny the economic benefits to American companies and workers of the two pacts, especially the one to open the much larger Colombian market. Indeed, it would enable U.S. exports to enter Colombia duty-free, as Colombian products have entered the United States for many years. Alas, in retaliation for Republicans’ refusal to extend trade-adjustment assistance, House Democrats have held up extension of long-standing duty-free access to U.S. markets for Colombia and other struggling Andean nations.
 
Read more here.

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