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Bloomberg: U.S. Trade Deals Falter as Unemployment, Democrats Mute Obama

Author: Mark Drajem
January 26, 2010

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President Barack Obama had his only trade request last year shot down by lawmakers. He may be lucky to get any through Congress this year as well.

Obama appealed last March for duty-free status on exports from Afghanistan and Pakistan in an effort to boost employment and counter the lure of terrorist groups. After fellow Democrats criticized labor rights in the two countries, the Senate removed the provision from a funding bill.

"Could we have a higher priority than to get this done?" Brenda Jacobs, a lawyer at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington representing apparel importers, said in an interview. "It's a harbinger of how tough it's going to be on trade."

With last year's defeat in mind, it's unlikely Obama will take on Democratic allies and fight for still-pending trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, Jacobs said. At stake are deals that companies such as Caterpillar Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. say are key to boosting U.S. exports and jobs.

"It's clear that trade is not a priority," William Lane, Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar's Washington lobbyist, said in an interview. "There is no way to sugarcoat it: The business community is disappointed."

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