The US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea trumpeted by President Barack Obama as engines of growth and job-creation.
By lopsided 262-167, 300-129, and 278-151 margins, respectively, lawmakers backed the agreements and sent them to the Senate, which was on track to pass them swiftly despite opposition from the White House's labor union allies.
Obama has made passing the accords -- negotiated and signed some five years ago under his predecessor, George W. Bush -- a core part of his strategy to battle 9.1 percent unemployment ahead of November 2012 elections.
"These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America," Obama said in a statement as he sent the accords to Congress last week.
The Obama administration said the deals are expected to boost US exports by $13 billion and benefit US agriculture and manufacturing, and will bolster diplomatic ties to all three countries.
It has also warned that the United States has seen its exports lose market share relative to global competitors like the European Union or China as those economies have secured new trade deals.
The pacts' Republican and Democratic backers were keen to pass them on the eve of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak's visit to Washington, including a rare speech to a joint session of the US Congress on Thursday.
Lee and President Barack Obama were to travel to Michigan on Friday to tour a General Motors plant -- one source, Washington hopes, of future car sales to South Korea thanks to the agreement.
"These significant trade pacts will provide new opportunities for American small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers to expand and hire more workers," said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
But many Democrats, notably from the hard-hit heartland, have expressed worries about possible US jobs losses.
"Now is not the time to pass more wrongheaded free trade agreements," said Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, who represents the rustbelt state of Ohio. "We must put American jobs and American workers first."
And major US labor unions -- whose sweeping get-out-the-vote drives have been critical to Democratic politicians -- opposed the accords on grounds they will only hasten the bloodletting in the country's wounded manufacturing sector.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO union that represents an estimated 12 million US workers, described the pacts as "lousy" in an October 4 speech and his union has waged a television advertising campaign to defeat them.
The ads point to a study by the Economic Policy Institute think tank in Washington that found the South Korea deal would cost some 159,000 US jobs.
They also revive concerns about violence against labor activists in Colombia, where 51 were killed last year and 22 have been slain in 2011, and charge that Panama is a haven for money laundering and tax cheats.
Colombia labor union members said last week that their country's labor conditions and union rights situation had not improved enough and vowed to work with the US AFL-CIO labor union to try to defeat that agreement.
The White House said late Tuesday that Bogota had approved an "action plan" to improve labor rights and vowed to ensure it has been "successfully implemented" before Washington fully brings that accord into force.
But many Democrats -- perhaps most -- were expected to oppose the Colombia deal.
"I lost my faith in the legislation" when efforts to include the labor rights provision in the actual agreement failed, said Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "If it's not in the bill, it doesn't exist."
Obama revised the deals and insisted on passage of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA) designed to help workers who lose jobs to overseas competition as preconditions for moving forward on the the trade agreements.
The Senate has already passed TAA, while the House was expected to take up the measure -- which many Republicans oppose -- on Wednesday.
The South Korea deal awaits approval of the parliament in Seoul, where opposition has likewise focused on ostensible threats to Korean jobs and businesses.