President Barack Obama faced bipartisan pressure on Monday to send Congress long-delayed trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and rally support for them. The president used the State of the Union speech last year to set a goal of doubling exports in five years. He also called for closer trade ties with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
This year, “I hope he will take the next step and say I’m now going to send these trade agreements forward” to Congress for a vote, Portman said. Portman, who was elected to the Senate in November, launched negotiations on the South Korea trade agreement back in 2006, when he was chief U.S. trade negotiator under former President George W. Bush. On Tuesday, Obama is widely expected to say he plans to submit the Korea agreement to Congress for a vote, following recent changes his administration negotiated to the pact to address U.S. auto industry concerns. It’s unclear what Obama will do about the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements, which were negotiated by the Bush administration and opposed by many House Democrats. In an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, a pair of Democrats who served in President Bill Clinton’s White House urged Obama to push for bipartisan approval of all three trade deals. Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzon, a former union leader, is in Washington this week to meet with U.S. lawmakers and Obama administration officials about the pact. The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on all three agreements, in a sign of Republican interest in advancing the pacts. “We have delayed action on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement for too long. Now is the time to resolve outstanding issues and approve the Free Trade Agreement so American ranchers, farmers and workers can have a chance to compete,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said.