By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Wednesday said he will not bundle free-trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama into a single bill for congressional approval, despite Republican pressure to do so.
"It is highly unlikely to zero that they would be (submitted) in one bill," Kirk told reporters. "We know of no legislative template for an omnibus trade bill."
The Obama administration's top trade ambassador said that the Panama and South Korea deals were essentially ready for congressional consideration and technical talks with lawmakers were underway. Kirk said the process for Colombia also would be started soon, aiming for a vote after mid-June.
Some Republicans in Congress have urged Kirk for a single vote on all three but he said this could complicate the process.
"Even though I'm very confident they'll pass, we would run the risk of all three being knocked down by a point of order," he said, referring to a parliamentary maneuver. "So what we're talking with Congress about is staging and timing."
The Obama administration is pushing for approval of the trade pacts by July, because that is when rival free trade deals take effect, including the European Union's pact with South Korea and Canada's pact with Colombia. If U.S. deals are not in place by then, U.S. exports to these countries could be put at a disadvantage.
Kirk also said he wanted to work with Congress to approve other legislation on trade adjustment systems and trade preference programs that help developing countries.
"We've given notice to Congress that we're ready to start the informal and formal process on Korea, Panama and soon Colombia, but want it to be part of a holistic strategy that also includes the trade adjustment systems and also the preference programs," he said.
This would include discussions with Congress on extending the expired Andean Trade Preference Act, which allowed Colombia and other Andean countries to export goods to the United States without paying duties.
Kirk also said he believes there is a more receptive attitude toward more trade deals as a way to boost exports and job growth in the United States.
"What we hope is that we have been able to demonstrate to the American public that there is a way to have fair trade," he said. "Trade really can be a way to empower us to sell more (abroad) and to create jobs here."
(Editing by James Dalgleish)