Actions on long-delayed free trade deals stalled in U.S. Senate

15:57, July 01, 2011      

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The U.S. Senate Finance Committee Thursday added more wait time for three free trade agreements that have sat on the books since the previous Bush administration.

Actions on trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which have awaited implementation for four or five years, were delayed again in face of Republican boycott.

The Republicans were protesting against an attachment to the South Korean deal, a provision that would provide retraining funds for U.S. workers who lost their jobs due to international competition.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch argued that U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, was trying to push the retraining program in a bid to appease labor unions, which rank among his core supporters.

"The administration has been flailing around for years trying to thread the needle with their union allies," Hatch said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute here, "even counting for the usual delays, the time it took to submit these agreements is certainly unacceptable."

Howard Rosen, a resident visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the delay hurts both U.S. and foreign workers, but argued that government spending on training can raise productivity, if done correctly.

Between 2001 and 2007, two-thirds of those leaving the retraining program found a job within three months, he said.

Free trade advocates in the United States have expressed disappointment that Washington has sat on the sidelines while major trade deals have been signed between Asian countries such as India, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The U.S. saw wine exports to South Korea take a nose dive during the last decade, some free trade advocates pointed out.

From 2000 to 2009, wine exports plunged from 17.1 percent to 10.8 percent. The reverse, however, happened for Chile over the same time period, as the South American nation ramped up its wine exports to South Korea from 2.4 percent to 21.5 percent, according to Chris Garza, senior director of Congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The reason, he said, is that Chile has a free trade agreement with South Korea.

Source: Xinhua
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