WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Democrat on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to incorporate trade deals with Colombia and Panama into his new push to win congressional approval of a pact with South Korea by early 2011.
“I would hope that the Colombia and Panamanian agreements would be considered either contemporaneously or prior to consideration (of) the Korean agreement,” House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters.
Obama, after a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Saturday in Toronto, said he wanted the two countries to resolve issues blocking the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement by November, when South Korea will host the next Group of 20 summit.
The United States wants better access to South Korean auto market than in the current agreement, which was signed three years ago this week but never submitted to Congress because of strong opposition from Democrats.
Washington also has concerns about South Korean restrictions on U.S. beef imports.
Obama said he planned to send the South Korea agreement to Congress for approval by early 2011.
However, he has not laid out a similar timeline for action on the Colombia and the Panama agreements.
All three pacts were negotiated by the administration of former President George W. Bush and were on Obama’s desk when he took office in January 2009.
Hoyer said he told White House and Treasury Department officials he supported the new push on South Korea but also reminded them that Colombia and Panama were important friends of the United States.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the Panama and Colombia trade agreements were “important trade priorities” for the United States.
The Obama administration is working with the two countries and Congress to address outstanding concerns and “determine the best time to submit them,” she said.
Hoyer’s comments highlight a division within the Democratic Party on trade deals.
Several House Democrats have criticized Obama’s decision to pursue the South Korean agreement and have warned they will oppose it unless major changes are made.
Reporting by Donna Smith; writing by Doug Palmer; editing by Mohammad Zargham