After four years of languishing, the three pending free trade agreements (Korea, Colombia, and Panama) could be approved by Congress as early as next week, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and White House Chief of Staff William Daley.  Floor votes in both the House and Senate on implementing legislation are scheduled for mid-week, the two Democratic leaders told a gathering of the National Foreign Trade Council Foundation earlier this week.

 The House Rules Committee on October 6 granted by a vote of 8-3 a rule for floor consideration of the three trade agreements and renewal of lapsed provisions of assistance for workers adversely affected by trade (H.R. 3078 for Colombia; H.R. 3079 for Panama; H.R. 3080 for Korea; and a Senate amendment to H.R. 2832 concerning Trade Adjustment Assistance, H.Res. 418).  Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (D-CA) said that every effort would be made to allow all sides to be heard in the debate that he said is set to begin October 12.  The Senate Finance Committee yesterday scheduled an October 11 markup of the three trade deals (S. 1641 for Colombia; S. 1642 for Korea; and S. 1643 for Panama).

The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) law was renewed based on a cost-cutting bipartisan agreement that was added by the Senate September 22 to the House-passed bill (H.R. 2832) extending the Generalized System of Preference (GSP).  The TAA program operates at 2002 funding levels and standards.  The White House made renewal of the TAA provisions that expired in February a precondition for formal submission of the FTAs under trade promotion authority (TPA), the fast-track congressional approval process that requires expedited votes under set deadlines.  Those deadlines will not be a factor if the votes proceed as scheduled and are completed prior to the bilateral U.S.-Korea summit on October 13.

House passage of the bill to extend the Generalized System of Preferences and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Provisions will require 25 to 40 Republican votes for passage, according to a congressional source who is working on the vote count.  Supporters of the FTAs have indicated that nothing is certain in the House regarding FTAs passage.

The National Chicken Council, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, and National Turkey Federation issued a joint statement supporting congressional and White House approval of the three trade agreements.  The joint statement noted in part that “the future of the U.S. poultry and egg industry depends on the continued expansion of exports.  The three FTAs could generate almost $1.4 billion in additional U.S. poultry and egg exports annually.  According to USDA calculations, the industry’s current annual exports of nearly $4.4 billion supports more than 50,400 U.S. jobs, and that each billion dollars in U.S. poultry and egg exports equates to about 11,525 American jobs throughout the economy”….  “The U.S. poultry and egg industry encourages Congress to approve the three pending FTAs swiftly and decisively,” the statement concluded.