Congress Wednesday approved long-delayed trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that are expected to lift exports by about $13 billion a year and give U.S. employment a boost.
Republicans and Democrats joined together in the House and the Senate to pass the pacts, which now go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
Obama -- who sent the three agreements to Capitol Hill nine days ago, four to five years after they were negotiated -- welcomed the congressional passage of the deals.
"These free trade agreements will give our economy a much-needed shot in the arm and create tens of thousands of American jobs," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the bipartisan votes showed there were some areas where his party and Obama could find common ground despite a current battle over jobs legislation and other clashes in the past.
"For our part, Senate Republicans are ready to work with him on an even more robust trade agenda," McConnell said.
U.S. farm and manufactured goods exports are expected to rise under the three agreements as tariffs are phased out. The pacts also open new markets for U.S. companies in service sectors such as banking, insurance and express delivery.
The biggest gains are expected from the pact with South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally and a $1 trillion economy in a region increasingly dominated by China. The agreement will help anchor the United States in the fast-growing Asia Pacific region so it can share in its growth, analysts say.
The U.S.-South Korea deal would be the biggest U.S. trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in January 1994.
The approval of the pact in Congress comes a day before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak speaks to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
The Senate voted 83-15 to approve the South Korea deal and the House 278-151. The Panama agreement cleared the Senate by a vote of 77-22 and the House 300-129.
The Colombia agreement, reflecting Democratic concerns about labor conditions, garnered the least support but still was approved by sizable margins of 66-33 in the Senate and 262-167 in the House.
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