WASHINGTON, April 22 The United States risks losing significant export sales to the European Union, Canada and other countries unless it approves three long-delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, Boeing (BA.N) Chief Executive James McNerney said on Thursday.
"Action on these FTAs (free trade agreements), and some others coming down the line, is absolutely imperative in my view for our nation," said McNerney, who was recently picked by President Barack Obama to chair his Export Council.
"I'd get going right now" on the pacts, he added.
In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center, McNerney stressed the importance of open markets to U.S. economic growth and said every U.S. president since Franklin Roosevelt has had to rise to the challenge of forging coalitions to support free trade.
"I am hopeful that President Obama will use the power of his position to break through this gridlock that is holding our exporters and their workers back from winning new customers in new markets," McNerney said.
All three free trade deals were negotiated and signed during the second term of Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.
The agreements have been blocked by Democrats' demands that Panama revamp its labor regime and tax haven laws, Colombia do more to reduce violence against trade unionists and South Korea make additional concessions to open its auto and manufactured goods markets to U.S. exports.
"They are languishing while our competitors are moving forward with our own FTAs with these countries and with new bilateral and regional negotiations to give their exporters and their workers a competitive edge," McNerney said.
Obama told business leaders last week he wanted to move forward on the agreements but gave no timetable for when he would send any of them to Congress.
The Panama free trade agreement is generally considered the easy of the three to fix, but there's no sign so far of a deal that would lead to a congressional vote.
Both Colombia and South Korea also want approval of their deals soon. But barring an unexpected push from the White House, neither of the pacts seems likely to go to Congress before this November's congressional elections.
"These are tough politically, particularly for a Democratic president. But a Democratic president is the only who can get them done" because the toughest opposition comes from within that party, McNerney said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Paul Simao)
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