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U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk Welcomes Next Steps on Pending Trade Pacts, Trade Adjustment Assistance

Washington, D.C. – United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk today welcomed the scheduling by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) of informal or “mock” markups for three separate implementing bills for pending trade agreements between the United States and South Korea, between the United States and Colombia, and between the United States and Panama. Kirk also welcomed the inclusion of a robust renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in the implementing bill for the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement, and measures renewing expired trade preference programs in the implementing bill for the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement.

“This is what we’ve been working toward. President Obama has made sure that these deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama are fairer for American workers and businesses, hold our partners accountable to keep their promises, and also reflect core American values on key issues like worker rights and protections. These agreements will help to boost U.S. exports and support tens of thousands of American jobs, and we are committed to their passage,” said Ambassador Kirk. “Advancing Trade Adjustment Assistance with these pending pacts is the right thing to do – because a balanced trade agenda recognizes the tough realities of trade for some Americans, even as we seize trade’s opportunities to create jobs here at home. America can and must do both and we look forward to seeing these agreements taken up this week.”

In 2010 and 2011, the Obama Administration worked with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to successfully address outstanding issues related to each of the three agreements. In particular, the Administration secured: greater U.S. access to the South Korean auto market; enhanced tax transparency and labor rights in Panama; and significantly increased labor rights and protections in Colombia. The Administration has been clear that ratified agreements will only enter into force if trading partners are meeting their commitments; for instance, Colombia must successfully implement key elements of the agreed Action Plan Related to Labor Rights before the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement will enter into force. Colombia has already met the milestones of the Action Plan that were slated for completion by June 15, 2011.

TAA provides training and support for American workers who are negatively affected by trade and is traditionally in place as trade agreements pass. It is designed to help workers, firms, farmers and fishermen transition to alternative employment. The Administration has said that movement forward on the three pending FTAs must be accompanied by a robust renewal of TAA consistent with the goals of the 2009 law that improved the scope and effectiveness of the program – for instance, covering Americans employed in the services sector in addition to U.S. manufacturing workers.

The Generalized System of Preferences and the Andean Trade Preferences Act expired in December 2010 and February 2011, respectively. These programs are designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for products from designated beneficiary countries and territories; they also support American jobs and improve American competitiveness since many American businesses use imports under these programs as inputs to manufacture goods in the United States.

The “mock markup” is an informal step traditionally taken by Congressional committees with jurisdiction over trade policy before formally considering legislation to implement a pending trade agreement. Committee members convene a public committee meeting to review the draft implementing bill for the agreement and to consider amendments. The protection afforded to a trade agreement under Trade Promotion Authority – which applies in the case of the Korea, Panama, and Colombia agreements – means that Congress may not amend the formal implementing bill the President submits, but proposed amendments approved at informal markups are considered by the Administration before the President submits the final implementing bill for each pact. Once legislation is formally submitted, each chamber of Congress has a prescribed period of time in which to hold an up-or-down vote on the trade agreement in question.