FTAs Pass

After a lengthy wait, free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea have been approved by Congress.

Via the NYTCongress Passes Trade Deals, Ending 5-Year Standoff

The House voted to pass the Colombia measure, the most controversial of the three deals because of concerns about the treatment of unions in that country, 262 to 167; the Panama measure passed 300 to 129, and the agreement concerning South Korea passed 278 to 151. The votes reflected a clear partisan divide, with many Democrats voting against the president. In the Senate, the Colombia measure passed 66 to 33, the Panama bill succeeded 77 to 22 and the South Korea measure passed 83 to 15. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, voted against all three measures.

The House also passed a measure to expand a benefits program for workers who lose jobs to foreign competition by a vote of 307 to 122. The benefits program, a must-have for labor unions, passed with strong Democratic support. The Senate previously approved the measure.

In regards to the significance:

The passage of the trade deals is important primarily as a political achievement, and for its foreign policy value in solidifying relationships with strategic allies. The economic benefits are projected to be small. A federal agency estimated in 2007 that the impact on employment would be “negligible” and that the deals would increase gross domestic product by about $14.4 billion, or roughly 0.1 percent.

These FTAs were originally negotiated by the Bush administration under the now expired Trade Promotion Authority power granted by the Congress to the President.  Under that process (originally called “Fast Track”), Presidents can negotiate trade pacts with foreign governments that do not have the status of formal treaties.  As such, the FTAs can be sent not to the Senate for a 2/3rds vote, but to the House and Senate for an up or down vote.  NAFTA is the most famous of such trade deals.  Interestingly, like NAFTA, the three deals that passed today were negotiated by a Republican president, but shepherded through congress (albeit after a serious delay in this case) by a Democratic president.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Latin America, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. PD Shaw says:


  2. Brett says:


    Although I think we should go further. We really ought to move towards a deeper trade union with Canada – possibly even a customs union.

  3. I´m interested about whether the corn producers in the Midwest will accept cheap Colombian sugar to compete with corn syrup.

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    Although I think we should go further. We really ought to move towards a deeper trade union with Canada – possibly even a customs union.

    Yes. Even with the total lack of evidence FTAs have done anything to benefit American workers, we’ll keep passing them. After all aren’t profits for a handful of people much more important?

  5. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    This is good news. Free trade is one of the lynchpins of sustainable growth without inflation. Hell, even liberal idiots like Krugman are able to emerge from their reality comas and to grasp the concepts of free trade and the objective data proving the merits thereof. Hopefully Obama will help push through more of these pacts next year.

  6. john personna says:

    For some reason when economists said “who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” we went with them.

    Free trade has not given us our fathers’ economy. This despite our fathers’ economy being “protectionist” in current terms.

    In related news, a former Intel exec worries that productivity is scaling in a way that limits future job prospects:

    There’s mounting evidence that Moore’s Law applies to commodity work — labor that can be produced by many different individuals with a minimal amount of training. It’s difficult to distinguish the output of one commodity worker from another, just as it is difficult to differentiate wheat grown on one farm from wheat grown on another. If Moore’s Law applies to commodity work, commodity workers are in big trouble.

    As to how much these actual bills matter, someone would have to scale them in terms of total US trade. Or to put another way, to report the change in total effective tariff rate over all goods.

  7. Coogan says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: I want to see the fine print. In our state, we watched in the 1980’s as our textile industry was destroyed by “free trade” agreements that favored other countries. America first: buy goods that say “Made In USA”

  8. Lit3Bolt says:

    Yay, I want to live in an America that makes and grows nothing, and we merely serve pizza and coffee to each other all day long.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    @André Kenji de Sousa: I think American corn producers are generally happy with free trade agreements since they have substantial competitive advantages in yellow corn over other countries.

    (I also suspect Columbia will convert its sugar to fuel anyway)

  10. john personna says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Corn is an interesting example. Even if subsides and the aquifers hold … it is produced with ever-lower labor inputs, and as a result, is not a net jobs win.

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: @Tsar Nicholas II: Perhaps you could explain how economic growth occurs without inflation?