Wednesday, July 13, 2011

FTAs Clear Congressional Committees

The U.S. Chamber's TradeRoots' program reports that on July 7, the pending trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama took an important step forward as they were approved in the "mock" markups held by the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees.

No amendments were approved, which most supporters consider good news as approval of amendments in these non-binding hearings is generally regarded as problematic to the approval process. In the complex process for Congressional consideration of trade agreements, the next step--when the White House sends the implementing bills to Congress--could come as early as this week.

However, a continuing disagreement about how to consider legislation to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) is complicating the outlook. (TAA is a program providing job retraining for workers displaced by international trade competition.) The Republican Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, stuck a deal with the Democrat Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, and with the White House on the substance of a bill. However, discussions on how to give the measure due consideration in Congress are still ongoing.

In the meantime, the insertion of the TAA bill in the implementing bill for the U.S.-Korea FTA resulted in it winning approval in mirror-image partisan votes in the House and Senate committees. In the Senate Finance Committee, where the Korea bill included the TAA compromise, it was approved with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans opposing nearly all declared their support for the trade agreement). The opposite happened in the House Ways and Means Committee, where TAA was not included in the Korea implementing bill: every Republican voted for it, and every Democrat voted against it.

The trade agreements with Colombia and Panama were approved in the Senate Finance Committee with bipartisan support: the votes were 17-6 on Colombia and 22-2 on Panama. In the House Ways and Means Committee, the implementing bills for the agreements with Colombia and Panama were approved with partisan votes (just as the bill for the agreement with Korea was: every Republican voted for them, and every Democrat voted against them though again, the agreements received expressions of support from some members voting no.)

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