Photo courtesy of Caterpillar Inc./Mike Lavallier, photographer
U.S. equipment makers see opportunities in trade deal with Panama, which has major infrastructure plans, including canal expansion.

U.S. construction equipment makers are expected to be among the industry sectors that stand to benefit from new trade agreements between the U.S. and South Korea, Columbia and Panama, government and industry officials say.

The House and Senate approved legislation implementing the three trade pacts on Oct. 12. The House also passed a Trade Adjustment Assistance measure to help workers who lose jobs because of trade-related activity. The Senate had approved the worker-assistance measure earlier.

The measures now go to the White House, for President Obama’s expected signature. After the votes, Obama said the three trade deals and the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill represent “a major win for American workers and businesses.”

After the new agreements go into effect, U.S. heavy-equipment manufacturers expect to see increased exports to Columbia and Panama because of provisions in the pacts that would eliminate those countries’ tariffs on U.S. goods.

Nick Yaksich, Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) vice president for global public policy, says, “We are obviously very supportive [and] encouraged by the free-trade agreements. ” He adds, “I think it sends the message to the world that we’re open for trade.”

For Caterpillar Inc., the Colombia agreement is the most important of the three pacts, says Bill Lane, the company’s Washington director. In terms of market opportunities, Lane notes that Colombia has some of the largest coal mines in the world, saying, “Plus there’s a lot of infrastructure that’s … starting to be built now that the insurgency in Colombia has pretty much come to an end. “

According to AEM, more than 98% of U.S. construction equipment exports to Colombia would become duty-free when the new agreement becomes effective.