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White House announces progress on Colombia trade deal; Republicans take credit

The White House on Wednesday said it's struck a deal to begin the ratification of a long-stalled free trade agreement with Colombia — a move that backers say will boost the U.S. economy and improve the U.S. standing in Latin America.

House Republicans — who had threatened to block a pending $10 billion trade deal with South Korea if the administration didn't move on Colombia — hailed the move, and credited the refusal to act on Korea with prodding the White House.

"We are estactic," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who called it "about time" for the administration to get the deal rolling. "This is jobs, jobs, jobs. We have small businesses ready to go, to hire people, to get this started."

U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk told reporters on a conference call that it was President Obama's direction that got the deal moving. The president is to meet Thursday at the White House with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

"We do respect their voices," Kirk said of Congress, "But we are where we are because of this president's courage and resolve." 

The deal has been languishing since 2007 with many Democrats fearful of labor abuses in Colombia.