Free trade agreements delayed by job support program

South Korean Trade Minister Kim Jong-Hoon holds a diplomatic document during a news conference about the South Korea-US free trade agreement at the foreign ministry in Seoul on December 5, 2010. The agreement lifts tariffs on 95 percent of goods between the countries within five years, in what would be the largest US trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994. The deal still needs ratification by the two countries' legislatures.

Steve Chiotakis: President Obama will outline his jobs program tomorrow night before Congress. And one of the things he's likely to say will create jobs is free trade. We have negotiations today beginning in the House of Representatives on three trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. They've been in the works for years, but delayed for a variety of reasons.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth takes a look at one of the main sticking points.


Alisa Roth: Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, gives extra support to people who lose their jobs because of competition from abroad. The support includes things like extended unemployment benefits and money for re-training and education. There are only about 250,000 participants, but for the last year, the TAA has been a source of tension between Republicans and Democrats.

The program was expanded in 2009 to include service workers and more generous benefits. But that part of the program expired at the beginning of this year because of the political fight.

Howard Rosen is a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute, which is a think tank.

Howard Rosen: Since the beginning of this year, there has been a reduction in the number of people eligible for this program, removing the majority of service workers.

He says the TAA should really be a model.

Rosen: It is precisely the kind of intensive assistance that is provided under TAA that we really should be providing all workers who are seriously unemployed.

But it's unlikely the free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama will get signed until Congress reaches a compromise on the TAA.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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