The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Farm Bureau, NFTC blast inaction on FTAs

Reacting to Senate Finance Committee Republicans boycotting a markup of implementing legislation for the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama and renewal of trade adjustment assistance, American Farm Bureau Federation trade lobbyist Chris Garza said Friday that Congress should stop playing politics, and National Foreign Trade Council President Bill Reinsch said that Republicans were inadvertently helping labor unions that want to stop the agreements.

"Not moving forward with these FTAs over the last four years has caused U.S. agriculture to lose exports and market share in Korea, Colombia and Panama. We cannot wait any longer. It's time to get these agreements done no matter what the procedure looks like at the end of the day," Garza said in a statement posted on the Farm Bureau website.

"At this point we need Congress to put the politics aside and focus on what is right for the country and what is right for the U.S. economy and that is finally getting these FTAs passed," Garza said. He added, "Passing the three trade agreements would immediately eliminate most trade tariffs that have hampered U.S. farmers and ranchers for years and would offer a needed boost to the economy. "

Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council also had something to say about the politics of the situation.

“It’s a cliché, but 'politics makes strange bedfellows' never gets old," Reinsch wrote in a blog that was distributed to reporters Friday.

“In the ongoing drama of FTAs and TAA renewal, we now have virtually the entire business community supporting a president whose trade policy they have spent two years criticizing, coupled with House and Senate Republicans who are doing the AFL-CIO’s work for it by blocking the free trade agreements that organized labor opposes. If I were [AFL-CIO President] Rich Trumka, I’d give Senators McConnell and Hatch medals for doing what he has thus far been unable to do — stop the FTAs from advancing. Watching this is much better than summer reruns.”

Reinsch said that he hopes the boycott “was a case of temporary insanity that will be corrected next week once they have had more time to review the dozens of amendments filed. If not, the search will be on for countermoves … This is great entertainment, but all this maneuvering is time wasted, which means growth and jobs foregone, American workers without the retraining benefits that will help them get new jobs, and poor people in the least developed countries out of work because the products they make no longer get tariff benefits.”

On Thursday, Reinsch wrote that separate votes on the free trade agreements and trade adjustment assistance risk an outcome where the entire package is defeated. “Separate votes would permit the Republicans to support the Korea FTA and oppose TAA renewal with Democrats presumably doing the reverse,” he wrote.

“Since there are currently more of the former than the latter, it will take Republican votes to pass TAA, and if they are not there, the package unravels,” Reinsch wrote. “It also doesn’t help the Senate, which will only consider the bill the President ultimately submits, which will certainly contain both parts of the deal. That tactic also negates the whole idea of compromise, the essence of which is that each side swallows something it doesn’t like in order to get something it does. That seems to be an increasingly alien concept these days as variations of ‘my way or the highway’ prevail in both parties – you need go no further than the debt limit debate to see that. For those of us in the private sector watching from the sidelines, it looks more and more like kindergarten.”