US President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law free-trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that were long delayed over implementation wrangles and political disputes in Washington.
Obama also signed an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps US workers who lose jobs to foreign competition, which he insisted upon before sending the deals to Congress for ratification.
The president ratified the deals, which he says will support tens of thousands of jobs and promote good labor practices, a week after they were endorsed by wide margins in Congress.
By his side as he signed the pacts in the Oval Office were US business leaders, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the ambassadors to Washington of South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
Obama later called Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama to congratulate them over the deals and stress the importance of properly implementing them.
“The president noted that the agreements indicate the deep and enduring ties between the United States and both Colombia and Panama,” the White House said in a statement.
Obama last week described the deals, which were passed despite opposition from some US unions, as a major win for US workers and businesses and as engines of economic growth.
The Obama administration says the deals will boost US exports by US$13 billion and benefit US agriculture and manufacturing, as well as bolster diplomatic ties with all three countries.
The pacts’ Republican and Democratic backers raced to pass them on the eve of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s speech to a joint session of the US Congress last week.
However, many Democrats, notably from the hard-hit US heartland, expressed worries about possible US job losses.
The Business Roundtable, an umbrella grouping of chief executives, praised the pacts and said it was now time to expand the US trade agenda.
“It’s now time to build on this milestone and focus on the future,” said Jim McNerney, the chief executive of Boeing and chairman of the roundtable. “With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the United States, our manufacturers, service providers and farmers stand to benefit from a fair and accountable international trading system.”
He said that pursuing new international trade and investment initiatives “will open new markets for businesses of all sizes and fuel US economic growth and job creation.”
“If we do not seize the opportunity to lead, others will, and the accompanying economic benefits will accrue to their nations rather than ours,” he added.
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