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Obama wants FTAs with Korea, Colombia, Panama ratified this year: Geithner

   WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The Obama administration is committed to pass through Congress pending free trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia this year, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Wednesday.

   "We would like to pass all of them, alongside trade adjustment assistance, and we want to do it this year," Geithner told a Senate Finance Committee hearing. "They're overwhelmingly in our favor economically and if we don't do it, what it means is that business just goes to other countries."

   Some Congressional Republicans want to consider the three FTAs concurrently, but U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has dismissed that as "a huge mistake."

   Kirk said last week that the Obama administration will present the revised Korea FTA first to lawmakers within weeks, hoping Congress will be able to approve it "this spring."

   Seoul and Washington last week exchanged a supplemental agreement reached in December to address U.S. concerns over the nations' lopsided auto trade, which has served as the biggest hurdle to getting congressional approval of the Korea FTA since it was signed in 2007 under the Bush administration.

   The revised deal calls for a delayed phaseout of auto tariffs, among other things, in return for Washington's concessions on pork and medicine.

   The Korea FTA was negotiated under the Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, which mandates Congress to vote yes or no without any amendments within 90 days of the deal's submission.

   The fast-track authority, meant to facilitate negotiation of trade deals, was suspended in 2007 by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

   In a message to Congress attached to his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, Obama on Monday stressed the need for early ratification of the deal with South Korea as a means of creating jobs by doubling exports within five years. 

   "My administration has moved aggressively to open markets abroad and boost exports of American-made goods and services, signing a new trade agreement with South Korea, the 12th-largest economy in the world," he said.

   In his State of the Union address last month, Obama called on Congress to ratify the Korea FTA as soon as possible.

   "Last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs," Obama said in his speech. "This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible."

   The U.S. International Trade Commission has said the Korea FTA will help South Korea increase shipments to the U.S. by US$7 billion while enhancing U.S. exports to South Korea by $11 billion annually.

   Some studies show the deal would increase annual two-way trade by more than $20 billion.

   The U.S. goods trade deficit with South Korea was $10.6 billion in 2009, down $2.8 billion from 2008.

 

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