The Obama administration announced it is prepared to begin discussions with Congress on the draft implementing bill for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). A similar announcement was made earlier about FTAs with South Korea and Panama.

“While Colombia still has important work to accomplish to address the objectives of the Action Plan before the President will formally submit this Agreement to Congress for consideration, we have determined that Colombia has taken the steps necessary, consistent with the April 22 milestones, to move to the next stage in the process,” U.S. Trade representative Kirk wrote. “Accordingly, my office is prepared to begin technical discussions with Members of Congress on the draft implementing bill and draft Statement of Administrative Action.”

In a related development, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, D-Mont., announced that he will support the U.S.-Korea FTA. His endorsement came after the administration agreed to seek consultations on beef market access with South Korea and increase funding to promote US beef sales in South Korea.

USDA also announced that it has awarded $1 million in FY11 Market Access Program (MAP) funds to the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to be used to promote US beef sales in South Korea. USMEF announced a five-year, $10 million initiative to regain and expand US beef markets in South Korea, according to a USDA release. Under the initiative, USMEF will request from USDA the $10 million to promote beef trade through the USDA’s Unified Export Strategy (UES) program, according to the USDA.

The Finance Committee has scheduled on May 11 a Colombia FTA hearing at which Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Sapiro and representatives from the Dept. of Labor and the AFL-CIO are expected to testify. That Committee tentatively has scheduled a hearing for May 24 on the U.S.-Panama FTA and a hearing for May 26 on the U.S.-Korea FTA, according to sources.