The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Free trade deal, including TAA, not fully embraced by GOP


Farm and business groups have begun pushing for congressional approval of the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama, even though House Republican leaders and conservative groups are still expressing some concerns about the deal with congressional Republicans that the White House announced Tuesday.

The deal includes a reauthorization of trade adjustment assistance for workers hurt by free trade. The White House has demanded that TAA, as it is known, be included in the package while Republicans balked at that idea. Farm and business groups that wanted the free trade agreements passed have said they recognized TAA would have to be part of the deal.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., reacting to a statement by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., that he will hold a “mock markup” of the bill to approve the agreements on Thursday, said the matter remains in Republican hands.

“Although Sen. Baucus has announced the Senate Finance Committee will move forward on the agreements, with TAA included in the South Korea bill, the decision on how to move these items through the House is a matter for Republican leadership to determine,” Camp said in a news release. “In addition, while the underlying policy reflects discussions we have had, the drafts released today by Chairman Baucus include a number of last-minute changes, particularly the offsets for TAA and the implementing bills for the three trade agreements, that I need to review more fully.”

But Camp also claimed that Republicans had won some concessions from the White House on TAA.

“From day one, it has been clear that Republicans would not accept the White House’s demand for TAA at 2009 levels,” Camp said. “Throughout the negotiations resulting in the TAA provisions that Senate Finance will consider this week, the Republican position has been that TAA must be cut and reformed. The final result is a program that has been cut not only from 2009 levels, but also below 2002 levels in several key areas. The program will revert to 2002 levels and below in some cases at the end of 2013 and will completely expire at the end of 2014. In that time, it is my hope that Congress examines the multitude of job assistance programs and comprehensively reforms them to ensure that they are efficiently and adequately meeting the needs of the unemployed and the taxpayers who fund such programs.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would hold separate votes on the free trade agreements and the benefits program, The New York Times reported, adding that this process, even if all four pieces pass, would terminate a fast track or trade promotion authority that allows for the rapid approval of trade agreements, leaving the package much more vulnerable to Senate opposition.

“We have long said that TAA — even this scaled-back version — should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements, and that is how we expect to proceed,” said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman, the Times reported.

The White House, meanwhile, confirmed Baucus’s earlier statement that a deal had been struck.

“As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “The president embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class. Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs.”

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, criticized the inclusion of TAA but did not say he would oppose the agreement.

“This highly-partisan decision to include TAA in the South Korean FTA implementing bill risks support for this critical job-creating trade pact in the name of a welfare program of questionable benefit at a time when our nation is broke,” Hatch said. “This is a clear breach of Trade Promotion Authority and threatens the ability of American exporters and job creators who stand to benefit from the largest bilateral trade agreement in more than a decade. TAA should move through the Congress on its own merit and should stand up to rigorous Senate debate. President Obama should send up our pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea and allow for a clean vote.”

House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., said he favors the Korean and Panama agreements, but still believes that the Colombia agreement should contain stronger protection for unionized workers.

“The development of an Action Plan on Labor Rights is a vital prerequisite to action on the Colombia FTA,” Levin said. “Without referencing the action plan, the implementing bill is fatally flawed and so I will actively oppose it.”

House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim McDermott, D-Wash., also voiced support for the labor rights plan.

“I don’t know how anyone could vote for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) implementing legislation unless it includes a meaningful reference to the Action Plan Related to Labor Rights,” McDermott said.

“The legislation has to clearly state that the president will not allow the FTA to enter into force unless Colombia has met its action plan commitments, which relate directly to Colombia’s FTA labor obligations,” McDermott said.

“In the past, we have done this, so why not here? In the NAFTA implementing bill, President Clinton directly linked ‘entry into force’ of NAFTA to Canada’s and Mexico’s implementation of the (albeit very flawed) labor and environmental side agreements, which helped ensure that both countries followed through,” McDermott said. “Even the Bush Administration, in the CAFTA implementing bill, included extensive labor reporting requirements related to the CAFTA and a separate ‘White Paper’ on labor. For Republicans to refuse to tie the action plan to entry into force is completely unacceptable."

But since Republicans hold a majority in the House, whether Democratic opposition matters will depend on whether Republicans and business groups can rally their members to vote for the measure and whether some Democrats vote for it despite the labor concerns.

The Colombian Embassy in Washington welcomed the announcement.

“As the agreement was signed more than four years ago, we are pleased to see the pathway toward approval in sight,” the embassy said.

The National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association all issued statements of support.

“NCGA is greatly encouraged by the movement on the pending FTAs,” NCGA President Bart Schott said. “The United States is the largest corn producer and exporter in the world, and developing new markets for our country’s agricultural products will help our sector lead the nation in economic growth and international competiveness.”

The American Soybean Association noted that the Finance Committee will consider the bills during a “mock” markup because Congress cannot offer amendments to the final implementing bills submitted by the administration under the Trade Promotion Authority Act — also known as “fast track” — procedures. Following administration review of any amendments that the Finance and Ways and Means committees approve on the draft implementing bills, final versions of the implementing bills will be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote, the group said.

“ASA urges that the Senate support and pass these agreements now and take full advantage of the opportunity they provide for America’s economic growth,” ASA official Alan Kemper said.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall expressed frustration that the agreements have taken so long.

“For nearly five years, trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea have been collecting dust while U.S. farmers and ranchers lose market-share,” Woodall said. “Enough is enough. These agreements have been victim of political games at the expense of U.S. cattlemen and women. NCBA welcomes the opportunity to move these deals forward and encourages House and Senate leaders to put their differences aside and work together to implement these agreements as quickly as possible.”

Earlier the same day, NCBA had issued a news release noting that South Korea and Canada agreed to conditions that would result in the resumption of beef exports from Canada to Korea. Korea reportedly will allow Canadian bone-in beef from cattle less than 30 months of age. This action would officially conclude South Korea’s eight-year-old ban on Canadian beef which was imposed after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable all urged Congress to pass the agreements.

“In addition to broad support in Congress for the pending trade agreements, there has historically been bipartisan support for Trade Adjustment Assistance, the Generalized System of Preferences, and the Andean Trade Preference Act,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said. “Likewise, the Chamber continues to support all three of these programs.”