GOP House Will Link Colombia and South Korea Trade Deals

December 16, 2010 06:11

Republican congressional leaders say they will use a new trade deal with South Korea that President Obama wants to pass, as leverage to move a long-delayed agreement with Colombia.

The Americano

The newly found spirit of cooperation between the White House and GOP may help Colombia obtain passage of its Free Trade Agreement with the United States, blocked by unions, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress.

According to Politico, Republican congressional leaders say they will use a new trade deal with South Korea that President Obama wants to pass, as leverage to move a long-delayed agreement with Colombia.

The strategy might draw more opposition for both treaties from organized labor, which is already split on passage of the treaty with South Korea, but it would also force the White House to choose between its liberal base and the business community.

In its story, Politico said that Republicans, who have supported Colombia’s conservative government, have long pushed for implementation of the free-trade pact despite the history of anti-union violence in the country. They now see linking South Korea and Colombia as a way to make President Barack Obama’s new embrace of trade politically costly for him with his own party, which overwhelmingly opposes free-trade pacts, according to an aide to a top House Republican and an outside trade adviser to Obama.

Obama condemned the free-trade pact negotiated with Colombia in 2006 under President George W. Bush as unacceptable because of that country’s record of impunity for those who murder union organizers.

Proponents of the trade bill say that former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe did much to fight the right-wing paramilitary organizations that persecuted and killed labor officials suspected of supporting the leftist rebel terrorist groups in the country.

Furthermore, they point out that at present under existing agreements, Colombian exports enter the United States free of tariffs, while American products pay a hefty import tax before being allowed into Colombia. Colombian products enter the United States under a regional agreement with Andean nations that also include Ecuador and Perú.

Reports of violence against Colombian union leaders are not deterring Republicans who will be the majority in the 112th Congress.

Incoming Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, along with incoming Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have all said in the past week and a half that they intend to move soon on all three free-trade pacts pending since 2007 (the third is with Panama).

In its story, Politico said that while their accounts differ about whether this will result in one bill or several, the leaders are all talking about linkage.

“My personal preference is to move all three together, whether it is all in one vote or in the same time frame,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said last week. “It may not be one vote. It may just be a very tight sequence.”

Politico said that this approach has cast a cloud over the South Korea agreement, which the White House has held out as an exemplar of the kind of bipartisan, pro-business initiative Obama will pursue in 2011 with the House in Republican hands.

Obama, through his trade representative, Ron Kirk, was able to obtain concessions this month from South Korea on trade in autos, earning the unprecedented support of two labor unions and mollifying Democratic opposition to the South Korea deal.

At the same time, White House officials are looking on nervously as Republicans push the Colombia agreement and are weighing their options. Moving ahead with the Colombia agreement as written is unlikely, Jeffrey Schott, an economist and private-sector adviser to the White House on trade, told Politico. More likely, the administration will go back to Colombia and try to secure new concessions from that government to address the concerns of Democrats and labor unions.

Schott noted that U.S. exporters have lost ground to other countries in the four years since the free-trade agreement was signed, as Colombia has signed similar pacts with Argentina and Brazil, with another one pending with the European Union. A Colombian government official said that U.S. agricultural exports to Colombia, which commanded 40 percent of that market in 2006, now constitute only 22 percent.

The Americano/Agencies

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