Industry confident White House will send pending trade deals to Congress soon

"There is ... increasingly a sense of inevitability," added Caterpillar's Bill Lane, who co-chairs the Latin America Trade Coalition (LATC). "All three trade agreements are going to be enacted, and the question is who's going to get credit for them."

The third agreement is with South Korea, and the administration has already indicated it would soon send that deal to Congress, although Republicans want to approve legislation for all three by July.

If the Obama administration has assured industry that all three will move soon, it has not yet been very explicit in public. Just last week, House Republicans pulled a vote to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) in order to protest the absence of any plan by the White House to advance Colombia and Panama. And when pressed on timing, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk could not say when legislation might find its way to Congress for passage.

The weekend expiration of TAA, which provides benefits to workers hurt by international trade, did not seem to motivate the White House to make a pledge on timing the two FTAs. Instead, it resulted in just a two-paragraph statement from National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling on Friday that said the administration is "disappointed," and that Congress should "extend this vital assistance."

However, industry points to comments Kirk made last week that indicate the administration is prepared to move quickly. Kirk told the House last week that he has been instructed to resolve the outstanding issues with Colombia and Panama.

"There was finally clear instruction given to Kirk to go focus on resolving any of the outstanding issues with respect to Colombia and Panama," said Laura Lane of Citigroup, who is the other co-chairwoman of the LATC. "We haven't heard that before."

While it might be new, it is still not the same as setting a date, although a firm commitment on timing could come in a few weeks. Murphy and both Lanes will travel to Colombia and Panama this week in part to ask how they can help move the agreements along. The office of the USTR is also sending officials to Latin America this week.

In early March, Kirk is expected to testify on trade before the Senate Finance Committee, and members of Congress and industry groups will be listening closely to see if he is willing to set a date.

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