The US apparel and footwear industry and its suppliers are urging President Barack Obama to send Congress the long-pending free trade deals with Colombia, Korea and Panama - along with pleas for their immediate approval and implementation.

"These agreements have been pending for far too long, with American workers and American businesses paying the price in lost jobs and lost business as we stand on the sidelines," says Kevin Burke, president and CEO of the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA).

In a letter submitted ahead of today's hearing by the House Ways and Means Committee on the three trade pacts, he added: "The apparel and footwear industry, we have seen firsthand the costs of waiting."

In the four years since the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement was signed, the Andean Trade Promotion & Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) trade preference programme has been allowed to almost lapse a total of six times. The most recent extension was just for six weeks, until 12 February.

It provides duty-free access to the US market for apparel from Colombia made from US textiles, but these short term extensions have created immense uncertainty to apparel and trade in the region.

The three-and-a-half year wait for both the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), meanwhile, has prevented US apparel, footwear and textile manufacturers, and their suppliers, from taking advantage of new export and sourcing opportunities.

The industry's call comes as President Barack Obama is due to make his annual State of the Union speech to Congress today (25 January). Last year he used it to set out goals to double US exports in five years. He also called for closer trade ties with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.