President Barack Obama signs the Manufacturing Enhancement Act in the East Room at the White House in Washington on August 11, 2010. Obama was joined by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (L) and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) -- Three trade agreements are pending, but no implementing legislation will be submitted unless Congress beefs up aid to idled U.S. workers, the White House said.
Pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia are vital to reaching the U.S. export goals, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Monday during a conference call updating reporters about the agreements.
Obama has insisted that "keeping the faith" with America's workers is as important as opening new markets and enforcement of trade agreements, Kirk said.
Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said the administration won't submit implementing legislation on any of the three pending agreements until a deal is struck with Congress on renewing an expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance program that is consistent with the objectives of the 2009 Trade Adjustment Assistance law.
"[Trade] adjustment assistance is a critical part of our economic and social compact," Sperling said. " We believe that there are significant economic gains and expanding trade and expanding exports. But we also have an economic and moral obligation to provide the reemployment assistance to those who do bear the dislocation or costs associated with what is for our country as a whole, a very positive economic policy."
The pending agreements are central to achieving the goals of the export by opening key markets and "and more importantly, [they] level the playing field for American exporters, their workers and businesses related to those export activities," Kirk said.
During his State of the Union address, Obama set a goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years to keep the United States competitive internationally while supporting the creation of 2 million jobs domestically.
"We have been successful in resolving the outstanding issues with each of the three pending free trade agreements and in the last several weeks, we have begun technical discussions with our congressional committees of jurisdiction to finalize the implementing legislation for each of the agreements for Panama, Colombia and Korea," Kirk said.
Since 2009, more than 435,000 workers have been certified as eligible for TAA support, said Michael Froman, the administration's international economic adviser.
The program has received bipartisan support before and enjoys broad support by the business community that sees "the social compact around trade is a critical part of moving forward with the president's overall trade agenda," Froman said.
The aides said there have been discussions with Democrats and Republicans and that members of Congress know passage of the three free trade agreements must be accompanied by a strong, robust extension of trade adjustment assistance.