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Monday, February 22, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements

J. F. Hornbeck, Coordinator
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Congress has constitutional authority over the formation and oversight of U.S. trade policy, and one of its most important responsibilities is consideration of legislation related to reciprocal bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs). The congressional role is comprehensive, with broad legislative and oversight responsibilities. Congress provides authority to the President to negotiate and enter into FTAs, approves and implements them, authorizes trade adjustment assistance, trade capacity building, and other programs to facilitate the administration of FTAs, and monitors the success of trade agreements in meeting congressional objectives. Evaluating the trade agreements process in its entirety is an ongoing priority for Congress. 

A holdover issue from the first session is the possible consideration of three reciprocal bilateral FTAs with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Despite expressing support for these FTAs, the Obama Administration has yet to arrange with Congress for the introduction of implementing bills. Each FTA contains labor and environment chapters consistent with a formal bipartisan agreement reached on May 10, 2007, but congressional movement on them continues to languish. The proposed FTA with Colombia has been the most contentious because of recurring internal violence, including attacks against labor union representatives. The proposed U.S.-Panama FTA has been delayed over Panama's labor and tax laws. Congressional concern over trade in automobiles and beef has hampered consideration of the U.S.-Korean FTA. Resolving these issues to the satisfaction of a majority in Congress has proven difficult and the outcome on these FTAs may point to the direction trade policy may be headed in the future.

Date of Report: January 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 4
Order Number: IS40399
Price: $7.95

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