24th Nov 2020

Senators warn Obama on EU trade competition

US senators from both parties on Wednesday (3 March) pressured the Obama administration to implement free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, warning of competition from the EU, which recently clinched similar deals.

Washington's free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea were signed during the George W. Bush administration, but their implementation has been blocked for some three years now due to opposition from Barack Obama's own Democratic Party.

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  • Congress is worried the EU is stealing a march on the US, reaching free trade agreements with countries ahead of Washington (Photo: Brian Auer)

"Time is of the essence. We want to get this done,"top US trade official Ron Kirk said before the Senate's finance committee. "This is almost singularly to the benefit of the United States."

Mr Kirk was echoed in his calls by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the committee, who warned that the stalemate is hurting US credibility, while the EU and Canada are moving ahead on trade.

"South Korea has already concluded a trade agreement with the European Union, and Colombia has reportedly just done the same. Such erosion to global US competitiveness concerns me," said Republican senator Charles Grassley.

His Democrat colleague Max Baucus said the United States "should approve the trade agreements that we have already negotiated and signed."

"We must address the remaining obstacles to these agreements. But we must also recognize the consequences of further delay," he said.

On the EU and Canada's agreements with South Korea and Colombia, Mr Baucus warned that "once implemented, these agreements will give European and Canadian farmers and businesses a competitive advantage, unless we act."

South Korea is the US's fourth-largest trading partner and Colombia is its largest agricultural market in South America.

But trade unions and left-leaning Democrats have expressed concerns over the impact of the agreements on US jobs and want commitments to improve working standards within the countries, especially in Colombia, where trade unionists are regularly killed by right-wing paramilitaries.

Colombian trade unionist killings account for roughly 60 percent of the world total.

Mr Obama's top trade official said Colombia will be given a list of proposals "over the next several months, if not weeks" to resolve these issues.

As for the South Korean deal, the main obstacle is access of US auto and beef companies to the country's market.

The EU has inked its free trade deal with South Korea last year and signed similar pacts with Peru and Colombia on Monday.

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