A former USDA Trade Chief disputes claims by top House Democrat on Trade Sander Levin, D-Mich., that U.S. trade deal timing is less important now with Colombia than Korea.
Levin, Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, says the July 1 Colombia-Canada free trade implementation date is less critical for the U.S. than the same date for a Korea-European Union deal.
"With Korea, July 1 is clearly important," Levin said. "As to agriculture in Colombia a lot of the impact already comes from their agreement with Mercosur and other countries."
Mercosur is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
However former Clinton Administration trade adviser Paul Drazek argues the problem is that the U.S. hasn't implemented its agreement with Colombia. He notes it's been delayed for three years and says Levin doesn't want to focus on that.
"He's trying to divert attention away from the fact that Canada is going to start to eat our lunch in Colombia, which is going to happen," Drazek said. "I guess what he's trying to say is that those other countries already have access and it won't be Canada that's killing us it's them."
And if the U.S. had a ratified deal with Colombia, Drazek says Mercosur wouldn't be hurting the U.S. in the market, nor would Canada as it starts to export wheat, pork and other key commodities to Colombia.
Unfortunately, Drazek fears Levin's opposition to the Colombia FTA could make it harder to get the votes needed in the House to pass the deal.
"Whether it's sufficient to kill it I don't know, the Democrats don't control the House," Drazek said. "It would be nice to have a significant number of Democrats voting for this agreement but it seems to me that Levin probably would have an impact on how many Democrats would be willing to vote for it. If he's not going to vote for it a lot of them will follow his lead."
But Drazek says if President Obama is willing to send up the Colombia deal along with Panama and Korea, Colombia would likely have enough votes in the House to pass.
Obama Looks to Push Trade Deals Forward But Republicans Hesitant"
The Obama Administration and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., say they have reached an agreement with the House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to renew, yet scale back, a set of expired Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits. The White House was demanding that Republicans agree to renew expanded TAA benefits before it would send the Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreement deals to Congress for final action. The TAA package will be part of the implementing legislation for the Korea FTA, meaning Congress would have to vote up or down on the trade pacts within 90 days of receiving them.
However, Camp said he won't sanction the Democrats' procedural plan and deferred to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Camp says the decision on how to move the items through the House is a matter for Republican leadership to determine. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel says House Republicans are still concerned about adding worker benefits. Republicans have said TAA should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements and that's how Steel says they expect to proceed.
Top Finance Republican Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., say they plan to oppose the South Korea FTA because of the plan to tie it with the TAA renewal. However, the White House remains optimistic and confident that they now have a process that will lead to passage of all of the measures together.