President Barack Obama wants to win congressional approval of free trade deals with Panama and Colombia but has not set a deadline for resolving problems with the pacts, the top U.S. trade official said on Tuesday.
"These free trade agreements are almost entirely to the benefit of American exporters and do represent collectively several billion dollars of opportunities," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters after a meeting of Obama's Export Promotion Cabinet.
"We're going to do everything we can to bring them forward as soon as it makes sense to do so," Kirk said.
But there is no specific timetable for resolving labor and other concerns with the agreements and sending them to Congress for a vote, Kirk said.
"Hopefully we can come up with a more definitive timeline on those in the near future as well," Kirk said.
Last month at the Group of 20 summit in Toronto, President Barack Obama said he wanted to fix problems blocking approval of a free trade agreement with South Korea by November, when Seoul will host the next G20 summit.
Obama also said he planned to send the Korea agreement to Congress for a vote by early 2011.
Kirk explained that last month's meeting in Toronto was a good time for Obama to announce a deadline for the South Korea agreement because "you had the practical circumstance of the president being at the G-20 meeting with South Korean President Lee (Myung-bak) and his pending visit in November, his state visit as well as the G-20 visit."
"As you know, we've always said that the substance of our work with Panama and Colombia would drive those," Kirk added.
Obama's decision to try to resolve beef and auto trade issues blocking the Korea agreement has split Democrats ahead of November congressional elections.
While some like House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have welcomed the move, others like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown have called it a mistake.
All three agreements were negotiated by former President George W. Bush's administration and having been sitting on Obama's desk since he took office in January 2009.
Democratic opponents have been pushing Colombia to do more to reduce killings of trade unionists and prosecute those responsible for thousands of murders.
They also want changes to Panama's labor and bank secrecy laws and other reforms.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Stacey Joyce)