U.S. Set to Pass Trade Deals With Colombia, Panama and S. Korea

At long last, Washington looks ready to pass free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Congressional ratification has been a long time in the making -- the trade agreement with Colombia was signed in 2006, while the agreements with Panama and South Korea were inked in 2007.

The trade deals with Colombia and Panama were, in some sense, part of a last-ditch effort by President George W. Bush to salvage the work put in by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Hopes for that hemisphere-wide trade zone effectively died in 2005, mainly because Latin American countries preferred to direct their attention to the construction of trade blocs that excluded the United States.

At the time the bilateral deals were signed, U.S. lawmakers raised principled objections to ratifying them. Colombia didn't protect union labor leaders, while Panama was a haven for tax dodgers. As for South Korea, its car and beef exporters didn't play fair. Colombia, South Korea and Panama set about making verifiable changes in order to allay Congress' objections. But after Republicans lost control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, the Bush administration no longer had the legislative support needed to pass the trade agreements it had negotiated. The deals have languished on Capitol Hill since then, held up by various lobbies.

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