Yesterday evening, Sept. 19, 2011, the U.S. Senate voted 84 to 8 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed with the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) legislation.

According to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus, the Senate took the first step necessary toward passing pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.  

“This procedural vote was a critical step toward ending the multi-year delay on passing pending trade pacts that would stimulate the economy and create jobs,” said Bacus.

“This legislation is one of the many requirements President Obama has demanded before he will send the agreements to Congress.”

Bacus said the Senate is likely to consider many amendments to the GSP legislation. Bacus expects the legislation to eventually pass and then go before the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

He said the president likely will delay sending the trade agreements to Congress until the House passes the GSP bill. As far as predicting a timeline for the FTAs, Bacus said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “holds the cards.”

“Sen. Reid holds the cards regarding how much time will be spent on the GSP bill. He has the ability to tie this up as long as he wants but there’s also a chance we could see the bill move quickly. Much of that will hinge on how many amendments he allows,” said Bacus.

“There is enormous pressure on Sen. Reid to keep this under control.”

Bacus said time is of the essence. The Senate still has to approve the continuing resolution before it expires on Sept. 30, in order to avoid a government shutdown.

If the Senate doesn’t finish work on GSP this week, the likely timeline to consider the FTAs gets pushed to October when the Senate returns from recess.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is scheduled to visit the White House on Oct. 13 for an official state visit, which Bacus said that would be the ideal time to finalize the trade agreements.