The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

FTAs head for votes after Senate Finance approves agreements, nominees

The House and the Senate are expected to vote Wednesday on bills to implement the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

The Senate Finance Committee approved all three agreements Tuesday as well as the nominations of Michael Punke to be a deputy U.S. trade representative; Islam Siddiqui to be chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; Paul Piquado to be an assistant secretary of Commerce, and David Johanson to be a member of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The House Rules Committee is expected to vote tonight on a single rule on the three trade agreements and trade adjustment assistance (TAA). The proposed rule would not allow any amendments. This procedural mechanism would give the Obama administration the assurance that the Republican-controlled House will vote for TAA as well as the trade agreements.

The House Ways and Means Committee approved the agreements last week.

Leading House supporters and business leaders have scheduled a rally at noon on Wednesday. Scheduled to appear are House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.; Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas; House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., and House Foreign Affairs Europe and Eurasia Subcommittee ranking member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., along with American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, Bill Lane of Caterpillar, and Ted Austell of the Boeing Company.

The state visit of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Washington this week has spurred action on the agreements, which have been pending for many years. The Korean leaders is scheduled for a meeting with President Barack Obama Thursday and a state dinner that evening.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the South Korea agreement and the nominations unanimously by voice vote, but held a recorded vote on the Colombia and Panama agreements. The vote on sending the Colombia and Panama agreements to the Senate floor was 18 yes to 6 no.

Senators voting against sending those agreements to the floor included Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Stabenow told the committee that she favors the Korea agreement because the Obama administration had increased market access for U.S. vehicles, but that she opposes the Colombia and Panama agreements because a labor action plan to force Colombia to deal with labor human rights abuses is not part of the formal agreement and because Panama has a history of allowing businesses to be established to avoid U.S. taxes.

Stabenow also noted that the United States has the smallest trade enforcement office of major countries and that she and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have sponsored legislation to provide more money and personnel to that office.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerrey, D-Mass., said he was voting for the Colombia agreement because “an incredible transition is taking place. I'm voting for the future.”

But the session was marked by protesters who shouted “free trade kills jobs” and that labor organizers are dying in Colombia. At the request of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., guards removed several of the protesters from the room.

Baucus noted in a news release that because the full Senate passed a stand-alone extension of trade adjustment authority and the general system of preferences last month, which is pending in the House, neither program was included in the legislative package the Committee considered today.

Baucus also said the trade agreements will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion each year and boost U.S. gross domestic product by more than $15 billion.

“These free trade agreements are about jobs,” Baucus said.

“In these tough economic times, these trade agreements are exactly what our economy needs to spur job creation,” Baucus said. “They will help U.S. workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses gain new customers for their world-class products in lucrative and fast-growing markets. The trade agreements passed today will create tens of thousands of jobs here at home and provide a much-needed boost of billions of dollars to our economy.”