Free Trade Agreements Caught in Politics

Republicans boycott Senate mock up as Democrats insist Trade Adjustment Assistance be tied to three pending FTAs.

Earlier in the week ag groups were encouraged by news that it appeared the Senate Finance Committee would move on the three stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. But it is Washington, we should have known better than to expect to see three agreement worth billions to the ag industry actually escape the continued political theatrics of D.C.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Tuesday afternoon (June 28) his committee would markup the pending free trade agreements. During remarks made during a Senate Agriculture hearing on the livestock industry, Baucus warned that the FTAs would not be passed unless the Trade Adjustment Assistance, which would help U.S. workers impacted by trade deals, was reauthorized. Baucus the FTAs and TAA were a "'s all or nothing."

Republicans have been opposed to the TAA, something President Obama said he will not back down on and offers labor unions support. Republicans state TAA should stand on its own and have welcomed a vote on the measure not tied to the free trade agreements.

A statement from the American Farm Bureau Federation, said it believes that Trade Adjustment Assistance “plays an important role in advancing a bipartisan trade agenda.” Earlier this year, Farm Bureau joined other leading industry associations in signing a joint letter on the importance of TAA.

Many agricultural groups have continued to urge Congress and the administration to move the three trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and called for closure on this issue by the end of session in August. However, these pending FTA agreements approached a road block as Republicans boycotted the mock markup before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.

Baucus was forced to call off the mock markup meeting after hearing from the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, that no Republicans would be attending the meeting. The Committee requires a quorum, which must include at least one member of each party. 

Hatch said in a press conference when the meeting was to start that Republicans “tried everything in our power to work with the majority to find a resolution.” He said Wednesday night, in an effort to ensure carefully consideration of pending trade agreements there was an agreement between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for the Senate Finance Committee to meet at 10:00 AM on Thursday, June 30th and proceed with the “mock” markup of the three trade agreements, one of which included an extension of vastly expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The agreement would have allowed both Democrat and Republican members of the Committee to have ample time to examine and amend the implementing legislation.

However, Senate Democrats refused to hold it at 10:00 a.m., and even refused to allow the Committee to convene next Tuesday. Instead they moved forward with the late-day markup over the objections of Republican members of the committee.

“The reason for this scheduling is simple. The Administration, to appease its political allies, is desperate to attach an extension of the stimulus level TAA to the Korea agreement. These trade agreements would bring billions of dollars in economic growth to our country overnight. They would create thousands of new jobs. And they are holding them up over TAA? They are prepared to throw years worth of work on free trade agreements in the garbage. This is beyond irresponsible,” Hatch said.

“We made it clear time and time and time again that we would not stomach attaching a big government spending program onto these agreements. The President knew where we stood and he decided to ignore those who don’t agree with him. Well, if he wants to play hardball, we are ready to play hardball,” Hatch claimed.

Baucus stated, “Every day we delay, we lose ground to our competitors. [July 1], Korea’s trade agreement with the European Union enters into force. In August, Colombia’s agreement with Canada enters into force. A majority of the Committee has committed to support the Korea/TAA legislation. That means it would have cleared this committee. It would have moved one step closer to ratification.”

Hopefully, these disagreements can be resolved in a timely manner and move toward the critical step of ratification and implementation of these important trade initiatives. Or at least that’s what agricultural groups can hope.




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