US Congress gets Colombia, Panama free trade pacts

Democrat lawyers had failed to back the Colombian pacts

US lawmakers are expected to take a first vote on Wednesday on the long-awaited free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama after US President Barack Obama sent the legislation to a congressional committee late Monday.

The trade pacts, which also include an agreement with South Korea, had been put on hold up for six years over US lawmakers' concerns that American jobs would be lost as they would pave the way for more than $13 billion in annual imports from the three countries. A last-minute deal reached by the White House and Republicans in the House to help displaced American workers affected by the trade pacts allowed the executive to send the deals to Congress for a vote. The final passage is expected next week.

"We've worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses, and I call on Congress to pass them without delay, along with the bipartisan agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance that will help workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition," Obama said in a statement posted on the White House webpage.

Some Democrat lawmakers had also refused to back the Colombian pacts because they said the Bogota government wasn't doing enough to protect union leaders from violence. "This is a mountain that we have been scaling for the past six years," said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday. "Obama has kept his promise."

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