Hostage to free trade

Unless common sense prevails, the House Democratic leadership may have killed the Colombian free trade agreement and torpedoed pending trade agreements with Panama and South Korea as well.

The Democrats seem to have no great objection to the Colombia agreement in and of itself, although their allies in organized labor do. Instead, they want to use a vote on the agreement as a bargaining chip for other Democratic priorities, such as expanded children’s health insurance, extended unemployment insurance, and training and assistance for workers who lose their jobs because of foreign trade.

But President Bush has never been accommodating on those issues before and with just nine months left to go in office has no reason to now. Thus Congress has administered a nasty rebuff to perhaps the most pro-United States country in Latin America.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she didn’t think the treaty would have passed. Others think maybe it would have. In any case, it would have been worth giving a Democratic free trader like House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel a chance to try.

The mechanism Pelosi chose is to stop the legislative clock that began ticking this week when President Bush sent the agreement to Congress. The House has 60 days to vote on the treaty and the Senate has 30 days after that.

The timetable is part of fast-track trade promotion authority which expired last year and which Congress should renew, if not for Bush at least for the next president. The authority requires Congress to vote up or down on trade agreements and is intended to stop the lawmakers from trying to rewrite already agreed upon treaties. Even so, this particular treaty has already been rewritten once to accommodate congressional demands for stricter labor and environmental standards.

Free trade has become an emotional and greatly distorted issue in the Democratic primary campaigns, particularly in the Rust Belt. Therefore it’s worth noting that this treaty would benefit us more than the Colombians. Under an annual agreement, their goods enter the U.S. tariff-free. Under this agreement, our goods, now taxed as high as 35 percent, would enter Colombia the same.

The White House was only slightly overstating it when press secretary Dana Perino said countries “will not be able to have faith in our word when we’re negotiating trade deals.” Since the Democrats took over Congress, Bush has been able to frustrate almost all their legislative priorities. But in their desperation for some kind of small triumph over Bush, the Democrats risk sabotaging our standing in Latin America.


  1. dbumRob

    Free Trade?

    “…the most pro-United States” country is the same one that paves our streets with addicting drugs. Ah yes, and we all know what “free trade” means now don’t we?

    I hope they shoot all free trade bills dead, and finally support the American worker instead of all these foreign citizens they want to turn into sweat shop workers, while doing nothing about the drugs that Columbia, and Afghanistan, a future “free trade” partner potential, (think Viet Nam)that they continue to manufacture and sell to American children.

    And why fast track anything? What’s wrong with debate, and concensus on a bill that can be reviewed by the public before a final vote? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, and why certain folk want fast track: because the bills are no good for workers in either country, just like NAFTA and Mexico.

    So what’s more important Mr. McFeatters, other countries having faith in us, even after the Iraq debacle, or Americas own citizens having faith in it’s government?

    This bill isn’t a hostage, it’s a traitor in disguise. It’s an economic Benedict Arnold, except in this case never a former hero.

  2. geb353

    The only thing Columbia produces is cocaine and coffee.
    They can keep it.
    Its another sweatshop to ship our few remaining jobs to –
    like we need another one.
    GWB supports it because it is bad for America and good for multinational corporations.
    I don’t give a damn what ‘other countries’ think WE should do with OUR trade, since we are getting raped in the world markets with ALL the lousy ‘deals’ we have already signed.
    ‘If Bush supports it, it is bad for America’ remember that and you’ll have a handle on anything the White [whore] House is behind.

  3. neondog

    Democratas trying to take care of Amercan workers!!! The shame. Just what the hell do those Democrats think they are up to?

    Dale…Is there a twelve step program for the kool aid you’ve been drinking?

  4. jzelensk

    While Democrats appear not to have an objection to the Colombian trade agreement, THEY SHOULD. These agreements amount to dismantling the national soveriegnty of the participating nations (yes, including most assuredly the US). Corporations in any of the signee nations can bring suit in special corporate-populated courts (not appealable to the US Supreme Court or anyone else), if they believe that for instance state, local or national environmental laws or reg’s are actions in restraint of trade.

    And such suits have been quite successful. When the supranational court rules against the defendant nation, it must nullify such environmental provisions, even if they are based upon sound science. The corporations can even claim lost “prospective” profits in instances where they believe that a publicly run enterprise (say, a national postal service or health single payor entity) competes with their existing or incipient product or service lines.

    The only way that citizens (which I believe we are first before we are consumers) can overturn these insidious, anti-domocracy provisions is for the country to exit the agreement entirely, or get all participating countries to agree to a reform to roll such egregious provisions back. Good luck.

    Former Colorado conservative Republican Senator Hank Brown actually READ the NAFTA legislation (the only one who did in its entirety), and concluded that the proposed agreement was about ANYTHING but free trade. He voted against the agreement. These more recent “trade” agreements are based on the NAFTA model.