New trade bills promise $15B boost for economy

US President Barack Obama (R) and his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak hold a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on October 13, 2011.

President Obama ate dinner with South Korea's president Wednesday night just as Congress was passing free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. A federal commission said that the could boost the American economy by as much as by $14.4 billion and create thousands of jobs. CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes explains what it means.

Jason Speer is still smarting over the $100,000 manufacturing contract he lost in South Korea this spring.

"It probably would have been two or three people we would have hired just for this," he said.

Speer's family-owned business in Schaumberg, Ill. makes metal floats, a critical component in many machines.

He lost that South Korean bid because he had to tack on the cost of an 8 percent tariff, while a German company didn't.

"All around the world they are making these free trade agreements and the U.S. is falling behind," said Speer. "That gives us a price disadvantage."

The U.S. could have leveled the playing field years ago. But three trade bills with South Korea, Panama and Colombia sat boxed up -- until Wednesday night, when the House and Senate voted all of them into law.

The new trade agreement with South Korea cuts export duties for both countries. Korean tariffs on U.S. beef, for example, will go from 40 percent to zero. Korean regulations that keep U.S. cars out of their market will also be eliminated.

The trade agreement with Colombia will boost U.S. grain exports and drop Colombian tariffs on heavy machinery that can add about $300,000 to the price of U.S. mining equipment there.

The bills faced stiff opposition from labor groups and some Democrats, who argue free trade agreements make foreign goods cheaper in the U.S., cutting demand for U.S.-made goods.

"We were told these would create jobs," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who took his case to the top. "They haven't."

"Have you told the president that you think these bills are bad for the country?" Cordes asked.

"On numerous occasions."

"And what does he say?"

"Well, we have a disagreement about that."

Proponents say these bills will create tens of thousands of new jobs -- just not right away because the agreements could take a couple of years to implement.

Evening News anchor Scott Pelley commented that it was remarkable that Democrats and Republicans actually passed a bill that on an issue that they agreed about. He asked Cordes what to make of this.

"Republicans like these agreements," she said, "because they open up new markets to U.S. goods. Many Democrats do too as long as they include some funding for workers who lose their jobs as a result of free trade and need to be retrained. So yes bipartisanship did win out here but only after several years of trying to reach a compromise."

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.