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Obama administration wants assistance package for workers before moving trade deals

Reporting from Washington -- President Obama won't send three pending free trade agreements to Congress for consideration until lawmakers agree to expand a federal assistance program for American workers affected by the trade deals, administration officials said Monday morning.

The deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea will displace some workers, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, and the federal government should assist in providing their job training and healthcare needs.

"We will not advance the free trade agreements without an agreement," Kirk said in a morning conference call with reporters.

Congress has so far passed on the chance to renew the trade adjustment assistance program of 2009, said Obama economic advisor Gene Sperling.

Nevertheless, Sperling said the White House doesn't expect the fight to derail the trade agreements.

"We just don't expect it to come to that," he said.

cparsons@tribune.com

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