TAA Passage May Help Free Trade Agreements

The Senate recently approved a bill (H.R. 2832) that would renew both the Generalized System of Preference and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs giving 129 countries duty-free access to the U.S. market, and give workers benefits if they lose their jobs to international trade. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011 passed by a vote of 70-27 and has now been sent to the Republican-led House, which is expected to pass the legislation and send it to the president to sign into law.

The final vote came after the Senate rejected three Republican amendments, including one that would have limited the TAA program to workers who lose their jobs due to a specific increase in imports from a country with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement. Another would have required a report on the consequences of failing to act on pending trade deals, and another would have required the U.S. to sell Taiwan new F-16 fighter planes.

As expected, Senate passage came easily and is part of an agreement that could help pave the way for President Barack Obama to send to Congress the three pending free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The trade accords with South Korea, Colombia and Panama reached under President George W. Bush have been stalled primarily over disagreements tied to extending the TAA program that helps workers who lose their jobs to overseas competition. Republicans have objected to approving TAA as a condition of approving the FTAs.

Early on Democrats had opposition to the FTAs themselves, however recent hurdles have added to the delay, including deadly violence against labor activists in Colombia, alleged money laundering in Panama and worries about opening South Korea’s automobile market. Those issues are all mostly resolved and passing the TAA aid deal now meets a condition Obama set before he would send the trade deals to Congress.

The South Korea deal, the biggest for the U.S. since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, would boost U.S. exports by as much as $10.9 billion in the first year in which it is in full effect, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The accord with Colombia would increase exports by as much as $1.1 billion a year.

If the president submits these agreements promptly, Congressional leadership is confident that all four bills can be signed into law by mid-October.