If all goes as expected the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama will be approved by both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate by mid-day Wednesday. Passage is expected to be swift. Tuesday afternoon the remaining committees approved the enabling legislation permitting floor debate to begin and a final vote.
The U.S. House was expected to begin debate on the agreements Tuesday evening and take a final vote Wednesday. The U.S. Senate is expected debate the agreements Wednesday before taking a final vote. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says the agreements would have broad bipartisan support in the Senate, predicting 65 to 70 votes.
Passage of the Free Trade Agreements between the United States and South Korea, Colombia and Panama would end nearly five years of negotiations over the pacts. The bills were hung up over worker rights and safety in Colombia, and concerns over U.S. workers who might lose their jobs as a result of less-expensive goods from the trading nations. As for U.S. workers, the Senate previously passed a Trade Adjustment Assistance bill. The House is expected to pass TAA with the FTAs.
So potentially the agreements could land on the President's desk for signature ahead of Thursday's visit to the U.S. by South Korea President Lee Myung-Bak.
According to South Korea’s trade minister Kim Jong-hoon, South Korea’s top negotiator, his government will ratify the U.S. – South Korea Free Trade Agreement shortly after its expected approval in Washington. Seoul will also ease domestic concerns about the pact in much the way the United States hasby attaching an assistance program for workers hurt by foreign competition. South Korea remains several steps behind the United States: It must still send the agreement to its legislature, and it must also contend with the opposition Democratic Party’s demands for broad revisions that would force negotiators back to the table. According to Jong-hoon, that objection could set final passage of the agreement back a matter of a few weeks.
South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party holds a strong enough majority to guarantee passage of the agreement. But a boisterous opposition could spark subsequent problems, including protests and increased anti-American sentiment. The U.S.-South Korea pact, if approved, would be South Korea’s eighth such deal.