President Barack Obama plans to send the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement to Congress in the next few weeks, but ``serious issues'' are holding up deals with Colombia and Panama, his top trade official said Wednesday.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the House Ways and Means Committee that Obama hopes Congress will approve the South Korean pact this spring. The administration says that accord could mean billions of dollars in increased U.S. exports and create tens of thousands of jobs.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk (left) told the House Ways and Means Committee that Obama hopes Congress will approve the South Korean pact this spring. Han Duk-soo, South Korean ambassador to the United States was present at the committee. (Yonhap News)
Kirk failed to satisfy majority Republicans about progress in finalizing the Latin American agreements. He said Obama had directed him to intensify talks with Colombia and Panama, but ``there remain serious issues'' including labor rights issues, to be resolved before the administration submits the deals to Congress.
Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. signed free trade deals with the three countries in 2007. But the agreements do not go into effect until Congress approves them, and the Democrats who have controlled Congress have not made trade a priority.
The Republican takeover of the House in November has moved trade into the spotlight, and the U.S.-South Korea deal took a big step forward in December when the two countries agreed on steps to open up Seoul's previously closed auto market.
The House committee chairman, Rep. Dave Camp, a Republican, applauded progress with South Korea but pushed the administration to wrap up the other two trade pacts. ``Where is the path forward for those agreements?'' he asked.
He said that the three agreements could translate into more than $10 billion in increased exports and could create up to 250,000 American jobs. Camp said the failure to act is ceding markets to other competitors, including the European Union and Canada.
``Time is up for Panama and Colombia,'' said the chairman of the trade subcommittee, Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican. Colombia and Panama ``have not only done everything we asked but have gone far beyond.''
The United States has pressed Panama to change laws that have made it a tax haven and to improve its labor rights record. The main issue in Colombia has been labor rights, including violence against labor leaders.
Kirk said the administration is encouraged by commitments by the new government in Colombia to improve that situation. He said he planned to send a team to Colombia in the next few weeks for further discussions.
While citing progress in both countries, he told Republicans pressing for a timetable for action that ``we will not sign agreements just for agreements' sake.''
The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Sander Levin, echoed that sentiment and said that Democrats had improved past free trade agreements by holding out for tougher provisions on worker and environmental protection.
He said union worker violence in Colombia remains unacceptably high and the burden is on the Colombians to address the issue.
Levin and other Democrats also expressed concern that Republican leaders have shelved legislation that would extend a program that helps workers who lose their jobs because of imports. The program expires next week. Some Republicans either do not like it or want to use it as leverage to get the administration to act on the free trade deals. Levin said tens of thousands of affected workers are at risk if the program expires.
Camp said the lack of commitment on Panama and Colombia ``is hindering the rest of our trade agenda.''
<관련 한글 기사>
"오바마, 한미FTA 법안 수주내 의회 제출"
버락 오바마 미국 대통령이 앞으로 수주 안에 한미 자유무역협정(FTA) 이행법안을 의회에 제출하고자 한다고 론 커크 무역대표부(USTR) 대표가 9일(이하 현지시각) 밝혔다.
커크 대표는 이날 하원 세입위원회 청문회에 증인으로 채택돼 출석, "수십억 달러 규모의 수출과 수만 개의 일자리 창출이라는 약속을 지키기 위해 오바마 대통령은 한미 FTA 이행법안을 수주 안에 의회에 제출하고자 한다"고 말했다.
또한 오바마 대통령이 "이번 봄에 (한미 FTA 이행법안이) 의회의 승인을 받길 기대한다"고 덧붙였다.
이날 커크 대표는 교착상태에 빠진 콜롬비아 및 파나마와의 무역협정 문제에 대 해서도 입을 열었다.
그는 "올해 안으로 가능한 빨리 무역협정 문제를 해결한다는 목표 아래 두 나라와의 작업을 즉시 강화할 것을 오바마 대통령이 내게 지시했다"고 말했다.
이에 대해 익명을 요구한 행정부 고위 관계자는 미 정부가 콜롬비아 및 파나마와의 무역협정 문제를 해결하는 과정에서 한국과의 협상을 모델로 삼길 원한다고 전 했다.
커크 대표는 또 이날 러시아와 항구적 정상무역관계(PNTR)에 대해서도 언급했다.
그는 "러시아가 세계무역기구(WTO)에 가입했을 때 미국 기업과 근로자들이 충분히 혜택을 볼 수 있도록" 올해 의회가 러시아와의 PNTR 체결을 승인해주길 바란다고 말했다.
여기에는 1974년 만들어진 '잭슨-배닉 수정안'의 철폐 요구도 포함될 것으로 보 인다.
잭슨-배닉 수정안은 유대인 및 종교적 소수자들의 자유 이민을 보장해주는 것을 조건으로 옛 소련이나 여타 계획경제 국가들과 정상적인 무역 관계를 맺도록 하는 법안인데, 러시아는 이것이 양국 통상관계의 걸림돌이라고 주장해왔다.