[Ip-health] Dow Jones-Senate GOP: Won't Back Commerce Nominee Until Trade Pacts Are Sent

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Mar 17 08:31:13 PDT 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.)

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  
trade-related nominees."

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  
negotiating tactic.

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


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

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