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Aug 5, 2011

The KORUS FTA will Pass: Don't Hold Your Breath

According to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner, the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement will get an up or down vote soon.   How soon - who knows.

If KORUS FTA reaches the floor of each house of Congress, the Bill will without little doubt pass.  I am less optimistic on the vote than the Speaker and the Majority Leader, since three FTAs are still bundled (Korea, Columbia and Panama) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA) is still a politically sensitive issue with Democrats.

According to a friend that is still working in the Senate from the days I worked at the Senate - the Bills will not receive a vote this month.

The Democrat Leadership has reluctantly agreed to split and give a separate vote on the Korea, Columbia and Panama agreements with the politically sensitive TAA.

We will still need to see what the rank and file Democrats demand.  Democratic Sand Levin the Ranking Member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee noted that he believes that the TAA must be linked to the FTAs or the TAA should be guaranteed passage.

The TAA is a work retraining and assistance program that in 1999 cost over USD 1.1 billion mainly because of the extension of the program to service sector workers.  Many Republicans and some Democrats believe the TAA is nothing more than welfare in the disguise of a work-training bill.

Republican Leadership has, to date, not been willing to unbundle the three FTAs, since they realize that the liklihood of passing the Columbia and Panama deal is slim without the bundling of it with the Korean agreement, because of the strong opposition to the Columbia and Panama deals by the AFL-CIO who claims that these nations are nations without respect for the protection of the rights of workers. 

The AFL-CIO is also opposed to the KORUS FTA for the obvious reasons.

The TAA program was scrapped when the Republicans took over the House in 2010.

In order to garner passage/extension of the TAA, the Republicans have promised to allow an up or down vote on the Bill and extend a toned down version of the program until 2013.

The KORUS FTA would eliminate over 95% of the tariffs between the U.S. and Korea.  Details of the tariff reductions will be noted in a separate blog post upon passage in the U.S. and Korea.

If the deal passes, the post will be found HERE.

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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com