WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Korean, Colombian and Panamanian officials said on Wednesday they hoped for U.S. congressional approval of pending free trade agreements by the middle of 2010.
South Korean Ambassador Han Duk-soo said he saw "a short window of opportunity" for Congress to approve the U.S.-South Korea free trade deal by June.
Otherwise, action on the two-year-old trade pact could be delayed until 2011 because of next November's congressional election, he said at a Commerce Department conference on boosting U.S. exports.
The Republican administration of former President George W. Bush negotiated all three free trade agreements, but was unable to win approval from the Democratic-controlled Congress before leaving office in January.
President Barack Obama opposed the South Korean and the Colombian accords during last year's campaign, but has said he wants to work with all three countries to resolve issues blocking approval of the pacts.
Obama will visit South Korea later this month as part of a longer Asia trip.
Ford, Chrysler and the United Auto Workers are the main opponents of the agreement, along with their supporters in Congress. They say the pact fails to tear down "non-tariff barriers" that have long kept out American cars, even though South Korea agreed to eliminate an 8 percent tariff.
Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak issued a joint statement when they last met in June saying they "were committed to working together to chart a way forward" for the free trade agreement, which was signed in June 2007.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is scheduled to discuss the U.S.-Korea agreement in a speech on Thursday night at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has criticized the administration for not pushing the pacts.
Panama's Ambassador to the United States Jaime Eduardo Aleman Healy presented his credentials to Obama on Wednesday and told the Commerce Department conference he was optimistic the White House would send the agreement to Congress once lawmakers finish their work on healthcare reform.
He said, based on his conversations with members of Congress and the administration, remaining concerns over labor and tax issues should be relatively easy to resolve.
The U.S.-Panama trade deal was also signed in June 2007.
Ricardo Triana, director of the Colombia Trade Bureau, said Colombia has been working with the U.S. Trade Representative's office to address concerns about their pact.
"We believe we can have the free trade agreement in shape by the end of the year," so Congress could vote on it in the first half of 2010 if conditions are right, Triana said.
The Colombia agreement is the oldest of the three pending deals and is approaching the third anniversary of its signing this month. It has been delayed mainly because of concerns over violence against labor leaders in that country.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Jackie Frank)