The Washington Post

Congressional negotiators strike deal on trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea

The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said Tuesday that the panel will move forward on three key trade deals that have been held up for weeks over an impasse between the White House and congressional Republicans, with final votes likely to come before Congress leaves for its August recess.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters at the Capitol that the Finance Committee will begin its work on the Colombia, Panama and South Korea trade pacts on Thursday, confirming a Wall Street Journal report that a deal had been struck between the White House and congressional negotiators.

Progress on the three pacts had been stalled since May, when the White House announced that it would not submit the deals for approval unless Congress agreed to move forward on a program to aid workers who lost their jobs because of outsourcing.

Hatch said Tuesday that congressional negotiators have worked out a compromise that will include a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. Republicans had objected to renewing the TAA program, arguing that it would do little to spur job creation and that it was not worth the cost at a time of record debt.

That opposition may remain an obstacle as the trade deals move forward, however. Hatch told reporters that if the final deal includes TAA, he plans to vote against it.

The trade deals, which were originally negotiated during the Bush administration, had been held up for years because of concerns among Democrats over Panama’s labor and tax-haven laws and anti-union violence in Colombia.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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