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Congress approves Colombia, Panama and South Korea trade agreements

by Joan Murphy | October 13, 2011

WASHINGTON -- After years of delays, the Senate moved quickly Oct. 12 to approve free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, sending the measures to President Obama for his signature.

Just hours after the measures passed the House, the Senate voted late in the evening to approve the South Korea trade pact (83-15), Panama accord (77-22) and Colombia agreement (66-33). News that Congress passed a South Korea trade agreement comes as South Korea President Lee Myung-bak is visiting the White House and addressing Congress Oct. 13.

"American automakers, farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, including many small businesses, will be able to compete and win in new markets," President Obama said in a press statement praising the vote. "I look forward to signing these agreements, which will help achieve my goal of doubling American exports and keeping America competitive in the 21st century."

After the House vote, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said that the agreements would be a boon to agriculture.

"I am pleased that after five years of waiting for action, our agricultural industry will benefit from significant, new market access," he said. "These agreements will put us in a better position to compete globally, expand U.S. exports, create jobs and bring much-needed income to communities across rural America."

Eliminating trade barriers will result in $370 million more in farm exports to Colombia annually and $1.9 billion in increased farm exports to South Korea, Rep. Lucas said.

The United Fresh Produce Association also praised the trade agreements, which passed just days after members of Congress discussed the need for the legislation with attendees of the Washington Public Policy Conference.

"United Fresh applauds the passage of the trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, collectively offering significant opportunity for U.S. agricultural exporters," said Ray Gilmer, spokesman for United Fresh in an Oct. 13 e-mail.

"Through the combined efforts of Congress and [President Obama’s] administration, these new trade agreements will help to foster trade with these important markets and support continued growth of the U.S. fresh produce industry," he said. "In particular, the pact with South Korea, with the largest scope since the NAFTA accord, ends duties for almost two-thirds of American farm exports."