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Discord continues over Korean trade agreement timing

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today urged Congress to ratify the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement soon rather than wait for the Colombian and Panamanian agreements to be submitted, even though Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Wednesday that all three trade agreements should be submitted at once.

Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report that it is important to ratify the Korea agreement quickly because Australia, a key competitor in selling beef, is negotiating an agreement with Korea. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives is not ready to submit the other agreements, he added.

Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Richard Lugar, R-Ind., issued a statement today that he would help block approval of the Korea agreement signed by President Obama unless the Colombia and Panama trade agreements signed by former President Bush are also submitted to Congress for approval.

“Hopes for economic growth in the United States and Indiana depend greatly on executing a global strategy to open markets to our exports,” Lugar said. “Holding back the Panama and Colombia free trade agreements because of the complaints of labor unions would underscore to our competitors that the Obama trade agenda is in disarray. It would signal that the United States isn’t going to compete aggressively for markets.”