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Delayed US trade deals may go to Congress soon

Oct 1, 2011, 4:10 p.m.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event at Abraham Lincoln High School in Denver, September 27, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama may send to Congress as early as Monday three long-stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, a senior administration official said Saturday.

The agreements have been awaiting congressional approval for more than four years.

Together, the three trade agreements are expected to boost exports by about $13 billion a year, which the administration estimates will help create tens of thousands of new jobs.

Some Republicans put potential job gains in the hundreds of thousands, while detractors predict they will cause job losses through increased imports and more factories moving abroad.

Obama has been holding off sending them to Capitol Hill in hopes of getting stronger assurances that a worker-retraining program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance would be approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The Democratic-controlled Senate recently passed a revamped version of the half-century-old TAA program.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the trade deals could be sent to Congress as early as Monday.

Each was signed during the previous administration of Republican President George W. Bush, and Obama has worked over the past year to address his fellow Democrats' concerns about the pacts.

A new problem emerged when Republicans determined to cut government spending balked at renewing certain TAA program benefits that expired early this year, setting up a fight with the White House and congressional Democrats.

After the recent Senate vote, Republican House Speaker John Boehner urged Obama to send the agreements to Congress and promised the House would vote on TAA "in tandem" with the trade pacts.

Despite the opposition of some Republican groups, like Club for Growth, to the TAA program, the Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and a long list of other business groups support the program, which they recognize is key to the trade deals' approval.

Boehner has predicted the pacts could be back on Obama's desk to be signed into law by mid-October.

That would be just about in time for an October 13 visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the White House.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech)

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