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Trade Agreements Split Massachusetts Delegation

Posted on October 13, 2011

Congress last night approved free-trade Agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in votes that divided the Massachusetts delegation.

Trade AgreementsSenators John Kerry and Scott Brown both supported the agreements, which AIM believes are critical to Massachusetts employers and employees.

Support was harder to find in the House of Representatives, where only Richard Neal of Springfield voted in favor of the agreement with South Korea. Neal, John Olver and Nikki Tsongas supported the agreement with Panama. The remainder of the House delegation – James McGovern, Barney Frank, John Tierney, Edward Markey, Michael Capuano, Steven Lynch and William Keating – opposed all three agreements.

“Massachusetts employers are grateful to Senators Kerry and Brown, and to Representatives Neal, Olver and Tsongas for backing agreements that will create thousands of jobs in Massachusetts. Exports are a key element of the Massachusetts economy and the three agreements will help Massachusetts companies save millions of dollars, because most tariffs will disappear immediately,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

The Korea Free Trade Agreement passed the House by a vote of 278-151 and the Senate by an 83-15 margin. The agreement with Panama passed the House 300-129 and the Senate 77-22, while the votes in favor of the Colombia agreement were 262-167 in the House and 66-33 in the Senate.

Massachusetts companies traded $900 million worth of goods last year with South Korea, $73 million with Colombia and $16 million with Panama. Analysts say the numbers are much higher if the value of services is included.

The House and Senate votes capped nearly five years of negotiations on the deals. The agreements have been hung up over differences between the Bush and Obama Administrations and Congressional Democrats and Republicans over worker rights and safety in Colombia, and concerns over U.S. workers who might lose their jobs as a result of less-expensive goods from the trading nations.