Ending a long stalemate, Congress approved three new trade agreements Wednesday evening, signing off on deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in an attempt to increase U.S. exports and create thousands of jobs.
Among the potential winners are U.S. agricultural producers who grow cherries, potatoes and apples -- big crops in Washington and the Northwest. Farmers expect sales to rise substantially when tariffs are lifted, reported The News Tribune.
"There is no question that these agreements will increase jobs," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said in a speech on the House floor.
Mark Powers, vice president of the Yakima-based Northwest Horticultural Council, said, "We export 30 percent of the fruit we grow. This is quite important to the health of our industry."
The pacts, approved by wide margins in the House and Senate, represent the nation's biggest trade deals since passage of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
In the House, the South Korean agreement passed 278 to 151, the Panama agreement by a vote of 300 to 129 and the Colombia agreement, 262 to 167.
Later in the Senate, with the support of Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, the South Korean agreement passed 83 to 15, the Panama agreement by a vote of 77 to 22, and the Colombia agreement, 66 to 33.
President Obama, who lobbied hard for the agreements, said the South Korean trade pact alone -- the largest of the three -- would create 70,000 new jobs in the United States.