U.S. Congress approves major free trade agreements

The U.S. Congress has approved free-trade agreements supporters say will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion annually.

The House of Representatives voted by a comfortable margin Wednesday in favor of the agreements with South Korea, Panamá and Colombia. The Senate also overwhelmingly approved the trade pacts.

All three were initially negotiated nearly five years ago, during the George W. Bush administration. They passed with bipartisan support, although some Democrats objected, citing human-rights concerns and fears American jobs could be lost overseas.

President Barack Obama said the bills are a major win for U.S. workers and businesses. He said they will boost exports, support good-paying jobs, and protect the environment, worker’s rights, and intellectual property.

The agreements ran into Democratic opposition shortly after President Obama took office. His administration renegotiated the agreements after Democrats expressed concern about Colombia’s history of violence against labor activists, and accusations of money laundering in Panamá. The South Korean agreement was held up by concerns about opening South Korea’s automobile market to U.S. cars.

The agreement with South Korea is the largest U.S. trade deal since the 1995 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

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