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Obama wants all three trade deals approved: Kirk

U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured at Miami Central Senior High School March 4, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. President Barack Obama is pictured at Miami Central Senior High School March 4, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama wants to work with Congress to win approval of three long-delayed trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Wednesday.

"Our goal is to have all three agreements, with their outstanding issues addressed, approved by Congress," Kirk said in prepared testimony for the Senate Finance Committee.

The administration wants to solve remaining issues blocking the Panama and Colombia pacts "as quickly as possible this year and submit them to Congress immediately thereafter," he said.

However, he stopped short of saying the Panama and Colombia pacts would be ready for consideration by July 1, along with the South Korea pact, as Republicans have demanded.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said he was afraid the Colombia and Panama agreements would fall by the wayside unless they are tied to action on the South Korea pact.

"I don't believe the president will ever act on the Colombia and Panama agreements unless these agreements move along with Korea," Hatch said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, also urged the administration to pass all agreements this year.

The Colombia pact is fiercely opposed by U.S. labor groups, who say that country has not done enough to stop killings of trade unionists and prosecute those responsible.

Baucus also pushed Kirk to get South Korea to agree to consult with the United States on a "road map to full market access in the future" for U.S. beef producers.

Kirk told the panel that remains an important issue" and said the United States was committed to further talks with South Korea on that front.

But he also noted the pact already progressively reduces tariffs on U.S. beef exports to South Korea to zero.

South Korea still blocks imports of beef from older cattle because of mad cow disease concerns. The United States says the barriers are not based on sound science.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Doina Chiacu)