Obama Pressed To Submit Free Trade Agreements With Colombia and Panama For Vote

U.S. President Barack Obama speaking with Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaking with Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaking with Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — Leading Senate Republicans, a Fortune 500 company and a major newspaper are calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to send the proposed free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress immediately.

Accusing Obama of a “schizophrenic trade policy,” Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Orrin Hatch attacked the administration for delaying the submission of the agreements until lawmakers decide to renew the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program at or near 2009 levels. The five-decade old TAA program helps U.S workers who’ve lost their jobs because of foreign trade.

“At a time when 14 million Americans are looking for work, they actually want to hold off on these known job-creating agreements in exchange for a green light to spend more money. It’s astonishing,” McConnell said, according to Reuters.

The TAA was expanded in 2009 to around $1 billion a year and provides retraining and healthcare benefits for workers who have lost their job because of import competition or their jobs moving overseas. Republicans argue that the program wastes taxpayer money as Congress plans ways to cut the huge U.S. budget deficit and that it’s unfair that workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition get better unemployment benefits than most other workers.

The CEO of Cargill, an agricultural commodities business with $108 billion in sales last year, also asked Congress to approve the free-trade agreements in order to “stimulate economic growth, jobs and global food security.”

Besides the TAA, the Obama administration has also been reluctant to pass the free trade deals to Congress until a number of labor-related concerns in Colombia – such as the murder of unionists – have been resolved. Colombia is expected to complete its second round of labor-related issue requirements by June 15, which paves the way for the Obama administration to formally submit the accord to Congress.

In a Sunday editorial, The Washington Post asked Democrats and Republicans to put down their partisan divides or it could take years to undo the harm to the economy and to the reputation of U.S. trade policy.

“Unless this impasse breaks, the collateral damage could include previously uncontroversial legislation that has long promoted U.S. trade with other developing countries but has lapsed pending resolution of the dispute over South Korea, Colombia and Panama.” The Washington Post wrote. “It could take months or years to undo the resulting harm to the economy and to the reputation of U.S. trade policy.”

The free trade agreement with Colombia was signed by former U.S. President George W. Bush and former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe in 2006, but laid stagnant until earlier this year when Colombia and the U.S. agreed on trade reforms in the Andean nation.

Just Published at the Latin America News Dispatch

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Image: Chuck Kennedy @ Whitehouse.gov.

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