[Ip-health] Dow Jones-Senate GOP: Won't Back Commerce Nominee Until Trade Pacts Are Sent
thiru at keionline.org
Thu Mar 17 11:31:13 EDT 2011
(Updates with comments by USTR in paragraphs 3-4, comments by Sen.
Baucus, House Republicans, White House advisor and Colombian
ambassador in paragraphs 12-20.)
By Tom Barkley Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Senate Republicans threatened Monday to hold
up any nominations for Commerce Secretary or any other trade posts
until President Barack Obama submits all three trade agreements left
over from the previous administration.
The letter by 44 Republican senators marks the first concrete move by
trade advocates in Congress to force the administration to move
forward on free-trade deals with Colombia and Panama. While technical
discussions have begun between the administration and Congress on
submitting a pact with South Korea that has been reworked, U.S. Trade
Representative Ron Kirk said last week that further negotiations are
needed before the other two are ready.
Kirk's office responded to the letter by reiterating its stance that
Congress should go ahead and pass the South Korea deal as the
negotiations continue on the others.
"Ambassador Kirk has said we have a shared goal to move all three
pending trade agreements and we believe we can get there the right
way," said USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said approval of
all three deals is long overdue.
"We believe that Korea, Panama and Colombia all should be sent up
forthwith, as rapidly as possible," McConnell said at a briefing to
announce the letter.
The letter says that until Obama submits the Colombia and Panama deals
to Congress and commits to signing implementing legislation into law,
"we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including
withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any
McConnell drew the line at actually voting down the South Korea deal
if it is sent up first, saying, "I'm not going to vote against an
agreement I'm in favor of."
With Commerce Secretary Gary Locke tapped to be the next ambassador to
China, the opening provides a "perfectly reasonable" opportunity to
give the administration an incentive to move more quickly on the
stalled trade pacts, he said. It could also provide "a pretty good
excuse" for the president to stand up to unions that continue to
opposed the deals, he said.
McConnell also signaled some flexibility in the specific process of
submitting the deals to Congress.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) told Kirk
last week that he doesn't think the South Korea deal would pass unless
all three are submitted as a package or "locked" closely together.
When asked about whether Republicans would consider some type of
commitment to link the deals, McConnell said they would listen to any
proposals from the administration. However, Baucus dismissed the
Republican letter as "a diversion from our goal and is simply not the
way to ensure their passage."
Meanwhile, key Republicans on trade issues in the House--Ways and
Means Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and trade subcommittee head Kevin
Brady (R., Texas)--welcomed the move by their Senate colleagues.
"The White House's refusal to act on all three makes no sense, and our
colleagues in the Senate are absolutely right -- the time for action
on the pending free-trade agreements is now," said Camp and Brady in a
Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for international
economic affairs, said Monday that setting a deadline would be a poor
But he said the administration is "keenly focused on resolving the
outstanding issues" with Colombia and would submit the deal as soon as
those are settled.
Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. said earlier in the day that talks
last week between the two countries were constructive, with both sides
sharing a "sense of urgency."
Gabriel Silva said his administration has made clear the original text
of the agreement hashed out more than five years ago isn't up for
renegotiation, but that he understands the Obama administration is
"comfortable with that."
However, he said the Colombian government is open to discussing issues
outside the core agreement, and that the two governments hope to
resume talks within the next couple of weeks.
Kirk told senators last week that the issues related to Colombia fall
outside the free-trade agreement, including "serious" concerns about
protection for labor organizers and a strong judiciary.
-By Tom Barkley, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9275; tom.barkley at dowjones.com
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