The administration has dragged its heels for months on free-trade deals with Colombia,, Panama and South Korea. Democrats and Republicans resisted the suggestion that the agreements be separated, insisting all should be pushed through to conclusion. It now appears lawmakers’ persistence paid off. The U.S. trade representative issued an update today that included the following:


Today, the Administration has indicated its readiness to begin technical discussions Thursday morning with key congressional staff on the draft implementing bills and draft Statements of Administrative Action for the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. This follows the transmission today of a letter from U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees indicating that Colombia has taken the necessary steps, consistent with the April 22 milestones outlined in the Action Plan, to move to the next stage in the process. . . .


In parallel with these technical discussions to finalize the text of implementing legislation for all three pending trade agreements, the Administration expects to work with Congress on a strong and robust TAA renewal that supports Americans who need training and other services when their jobs are affected by trade. TAA is a key component of our comprehensive legislative agenda for trade policy, which also includes the renewal of trade preference programs and Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Russia as that country joins the WTO.


Also today, Ambassador Kirk transmitted a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) indicating that once the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement has entered into force, the United States will request consultations under the existing beef protocol with South Korea to discuss the Protocol’s full application, recognizing that the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement and the Protocol are separate agreements. . . .

Also today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded an additional $1 million of FY2011 Market Access Program (MAP) funds to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), which they will utilize for their ongoing beef promotion in South Korea. USDA also welcomed USMEF’s creation of a 5-year, $10 million initiative to promote U.S. beef in Korea.

This is an unalloyed, albeit belated, positive development. Speaker of the House John Boehner promptly issued a statement praising the progress, making the connection between trade and jobs here at home:

With today’s news, the administration has indicated it is ready to meet our request to advance the three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Now it’s time we move to expand market access for American-made goods in all three of these nations. Putting Americans back to work is the top priority of the House, and enacting these critical agreements will help create jobs and provide a needed boost to our economy.

Free trade, as a top executive from a major international corporation told me yeseterday, doesn’t have a discrete lobby group. Big labor is active in opposing these deals, but aside from groups such as the Chamber of Commerce (which have a variety of issues on their plates) there is no drumbeat in favor of free-trade deals. Both the White House and lawmakers, understandably, don’t see what’s in it, politically, for them. But the reality is there are jobs for Americans in these deals, and credit to be garnered in each and every district and state where production begins or expands to serve overseas markets.

It’s not clear what finally spurred the administration to get off the stick. But perhaps the looming April jobs report due out this week had something to do with it. After all, as emerging markets expand more and more of our manufacturing, construction, farming and other sectors will depend on new customers overseas. We’ve lost valuable time in striking deals, allowing other countries to get their feet in the door and capture market share. But in this case, late really is better than never.