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US Congress passes pending free trade agreements

US Congress has approved the proposed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama ending a four-year drought in the forming of new trade partnerships.

In rapid succession, the House and Senate voted on the three trade pacts, which the administration says could boost exports by $13 billion and support tens of thousands of American jobs. None of the votes were close, despite opposition from labor groups and other critics of free trade agreements who say they result in job losses and ignore labor rights problems in the partner countries.

President Barack Obama said passage of the agreements was "a major win for American workers and businesses."

The agreements would lower or eliminate tariffs that American exporters face in the three countries. They also take steps to better protect intellectual property and improve access for American investors in those countries. The agreement with South Korea, the world's 13th largest economy, was the biggest such deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada in 1994.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak said that the agreement would "send a powerful message to the world that the United States and South Korea stand together in rejecting protectionism and that we are open to free and fair trade."

In a statement US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said “Passage of the agreements levels the playing field and secures markets for America’s farmers, ranchers, growers and producers,” said. “Immediately upon implementation of these agreements, the majority of American products exported to Korea, Colombia and Panama will become duty-free. Swift action by Congress also helped us to maintain an advantage on competitors striking their own trade deals with these nations. 

“The trade agreements will also strengthen what has been a bright spot in the American economy. With record agricultural exports supporting more than a million jobs here at home, passage of these deals will contribute to a positive US trade balance, create jobs, and provide new income opportunities for our nation’s agricultural producers, small businesses, and rural communities.”

The United States has free trade relations with 17 nations. It could still take several months to work out the final formalities before the current agreements go into force. The South Korean parliament is expected to sign off on its agreement this month.

Source: The Associated Press

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