WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers fumed on Monday over potential lost American exports because of a free trade deal between Canada and Colombia that has taken force before President Barack Obama has even sent a five-year-old U.S.-Colombia agreement to Congress for a vote.
“Today’s entry into force of the trade agreement between Canada and Colombia means that — for no good reason — U.S. workers and exporters are now disadvantaged in Colombia, a key export market for American-made goods and services,” said House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp.
“Our trade agreement with Colombia was signed in 2006, years before Canada and Colombia even began their negotiations ... Once again, I urgently call on the President to send the job-creating trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress without further delay,” Camp said in a statement.
Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, echoed Camp’s demand that Obama quickly send the pacts to Capitol Hill.
“The longer this administration delays the further our economy falls behind,” Hatch said, noting U.S. exporters have already paid over $3.5 billion in tariffs on U.S. exports to Colombia since the pact, which would eliminate most of those duties, was signed.
Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, said Obama wanted lawmakers to approve the Colombia agreement “as soon as possible.”
“For this reason, we’re pleased by Congress’s progress toward a path forward for all three pending trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA),” a nearly 50-year program for workers displaced by trade, Guthrie said.
“While we all work together to nail down the details of how these agreements and TAA will move, we can all agree that there’s no more time to lose,” she said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, agreed passing TAA and the trade deals “needs to be a top priority” when lawmakers return in September in order help create new American jobs and export opportunities.
The administration of former President George W. Bush, a Republican, negotiated all three agreements but was not able to get them through the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The Obama administration, in a move to the center after Republicans won control of the House in the November 2010 elections, renegotiated with each country to address concerns raised by Democrats.
But its hope of passing the three trade deals by the end of July fell victim to the battle over raising the U.S. debt ceiling and a separate fight over TAA, a spending program to help retrain Americans thrown out of work by imports or companies moving overseas.
Republicans objected to a White House plan to include a TAA extension in the implementing bill for the South Korea agreement and demanded a separate vote on the program.
That appears now to be the plan for TAA and the pacts when lawmakers return to Washington in September, although some Democrats remain suspicious that Republicans will try to kill the worker retraining program if it is not shielded by the South Korea deal.
Meanwhile, a free trade pact between the European Union and South Korea went into force on July 1.
That deal was also negotiated after the U.S.-South Korea agreement, which was signed in June 2007.
Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Vicki Allen and Cynthia Osterman