The Obama Administration told Congress this week that the long-pending free trade agreement with South Korea is nearly ready to go, but key Senators want similar agreements with Colombia and Panama to move at the same time.
At a hearing Wednesday to examine the Administration’s trade agenda, both Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said they want to see the three agreements move simultaneously.
Baucus, a longtime trade supporter from a key wheat state who traveled just last month to Colombia to bolster that agreement, said he believes all of the agreements must go through the process together to have the best chance of passage.
Hatch, for his part, did not threaten to hold up the Korea agreement, but did say he would take action and do “everything that I can” to ensure all of them are considered together.
Another Senator, Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) was more pointed in his assessment, issuing a statement Thursday vowing to block the Korea agreement’s movement if the other two are not also being considered.
“Hopes for economic growth…depend greatly on executing a global strategy to open markets to our exports,” he said. “Holding back the Panama and Colombia free trade agreements because of the complaints of labor unions would underscore to our competitors that the Obama trade agenda is in disarray. It would signal that the United States isn’t going to compete aggressively for markets.”
These statements – and a similar comments from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) earlier in the week – leave the path for the Korea agreement unclear while raising hopes among supporters of the other agreements that they could be considered reasonably soon.
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates have strongly and repeatedly voiced support for all three agreements, and particularly that with Colombia, which could help maintain U.S. wheat market share there. U.S. Wheat has estimated the industry is suffering from $100 million in annual lost wheat sales just for lack of that agreement’s ratification.
A broadcast of this week’s hearing is available at http://finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=b3348fe0-5056-a032-52ab-fd736221edc9.