President Obama is in favor in principle of passing the South Korea, Colombia and Panaman free trade deals. But when it comes to pushing these deals through Congress, he’s nowhere to be found. And so, the deals languish. As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board puts it:
The pressure on the White House to drop its passive-aggressive opposition to the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements is now officially bipartisan. That news came last week when Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus announced that “The time is here. The time is now. In fact, the time has passed to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It’s long passed. We’re losing market share hand over fist.”
The occasion was a hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, and Senatorial impatience was evident. “It is time to quickly resolve the outstanding issues on our pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and Korea, and we must approve all three agreements this year,” Mr. Baucus told Mr. Kirk. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, on the way to another meeting, took the floor briefly and told Mr. Baucus that he wanted the “record to reflect” his desire “to associate myself with your remarks. I think they are very important and I appreciate them.”
Dubbing passage of all three deals a “no-brainer” Baucus is plainly as perplexed and frustrated as his Republican colleagues. In his opening statement at last week’s hearing, the ranking committee member, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), made the case for ratification:
At the top of a pro-growth agenda is trade policy. Yet instead of leading the way, we are falling behind our trading partners. While we wait, other countries are writing the rules of trade. While we hesitate, other countries are opening up markets for their workers.
And if this sorry record is not corrected, U.S. workers will continue to lose out on the economic opportunities afforded by free and open trade.
As for Colombia, Hatch argued, “In 2008, the United States was the main supplier of corn, wheat and soybeans to Colombia, accounting for seventy-one percent of the market. Today, our market share is just twenty-seven percent. . . . While our trade agreement with Colombia collected dust, other countries were surging ahead..”
Hatch went on to trace the years of dithering by the administration on the Panama and Colombia deals, concluding: “After two years, it is still an open question whether the President will ever see fit to submit the Colombia and Panama agreements to Congress anytime in the near future, if at all.” And he vowed, “If the President ignores the will of Congress and sends the Korea agreement without Colombia and Panama, I will do everything I can to make sure that those two agreements are considered at the same time as Korea.”
One can only surmise that the president has made a deal with Big Labor to allow only one deal through. We will see whether Congress can force him to disappoint his biggest patron.