Washington, Oct 22 (IANS/EFE): President Barack Obama Friday signed into law free-trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, ending a long-stalled process aimed at boosting US exports.
On hand for the signing ceremony at the White House Oval Office were Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and the three countries' ambassadors to the US.
Executives from companies including Boeing, Caterpillar, Xerox and Dow Chemical also attended the official ceremony, which was off limits to the media.
Obama, who had opposed the trade accords as a presidential candidate in 2008, said after Congress ratified the pacts earlier this month that they represented a "major win for American workers and businesses".
The president had said the deals - signed between late 2006 and mid-2007 - were a key element in his administration's goal to double US exports by 2015.
The accords had been stalled in Congress as Democrats and Republicans sparred over a government programme to provide financial assistance and job training for workers left unemployed due to foreign competition.
Finally, a path to congressional approval of the trade deals was cleared when Obama and the Democrats succeeded in linking them to extension of the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance programme through the end of 2013.
In a year in which the Democrats and Republicans have been at loggerheads over raising the debt ceiling and Obama's jobs bill, ratification of the trade pacts represents the first big bipartisan agreement in Congress since the GOP recaptured a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.
"Years of perseverance have been rewarded today as American job creators will have new opportunities to expand and hire as they access new markets abroad," GOP House Speaker John Boehner said.
"While this day took too long to come, manufacturers, farmers, and small businesses can now be more competitive in the global marketplace."
For his part, Kirk said Friday that the accords will help create jobs in the US and stimulate the growth of the US economy.
The unemployment rate, which has remained high in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown and currently stands at 9.1 percent, is high on the list of voters' concerns a year from the presidential election.