Free Trade Agreements on Cusp?

After five frustrating years of waiting and delays, the White House and Congressional leaders have reportedly worked out an agreement that would have the White House sending the three Free Trade Agreements (FTA) to Congress any day now.

A compromise deal on voting on the three FTAs and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program one after the other has apparently been thrashed out.  The Wall Street Journal reported House Speaker John Boehner wanted to move the three FTAs and the TAA bill in tandem through the House (“Disputed Trade Pacts Advance,” 10/03/11.)  The Senate has already passed a compromise version of the TAA, with fewer weeks of unemployment compensation and a lower percentage of health care deductability.  Under the deal worked out, the House would vote separately on the three FTAs and the TAA and then send the FTAs to the Senate.

The Democrats want separate votes on each of the three FTAs so that more of them can vote against the deals with Panama and Colombia, as union opposition to those deals is stronger.  Union opposition, of course, is primarily what has stalled the FTAs since the Bush Administration negotiated them five years ago.  The Democratic Senate and House refused to consider the agreements then, and President Obama refused to sign them after his election.  In fact, he insisted on re-negotiating them with the three countries, adding things union backers wanted into the agreements.

The deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO Thea Lee called the FTAs even with these changes “bad agreements,” according to the Journal.

But as even President Obama publicly acknowledged that the agreements would generate economic revenue and jobs and his re-election chances dimmed under weak economic growth and high unemployment, movement on the pacts renewed.  In the meantime, new trade pacts between the EU and South Korea and between Canada and Colombia took effect over the summer, further putting American companies at competitive disadvantages.

Once the president actually sends the FTAs to Congress, it has 90 days to vote on them.  But with South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak coming for a state visit Oct. 13, there is incentive to get a vote accomplished by then.  The House has agreed to hustle up hearings on the bills straight away in order to speed the process up.

The FTAs are estimated to be worth $13 billion in trade annually and generate hundreds of thousands of jobs.  With agricultural commodities, machinery and chemicals as well as financial services, legal and health care industries and the auto industry set to benefit from the FTAs, it is a measure of the labor unions sway in Washington that the Journal reports these deals as “controversial.”  We haven’t seen any projections as to how the voting will go but we hope that the crying need for growth and jobs obvious even to the most hardened Democratic Congressional members, will motivate them to vote for the long-awaited FTAs to increase the chances of saving their own skin.

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Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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