As summer heats up, so does Congress as it looks at legislation that should be considered before the August recess. The three pending Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) — with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia — are a case in point. Each of those agreements has to have implementing legislation submitted to and then voted on by Congress. But there are still some thorny issues that divide the Republicans and the Democrats, especially in the House.
The Obama administration, after coming around to reluctant support of the FTAs that have been languishing for almost five years, just last month said that the trade pacts couldn’t be considered unless Congress also passed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) — legislation that would give hefty monetary and other benefits to workers ostensibly losing their jobs because of foreign competition. Some Republicans couldn’t believe the about-face — “you mean that these three trade agreements will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and at the same time we have to bail out people losing their jobs because of trade agreements?” paraphrases their reaction.
But just today, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a supporter of TAA, announced that the committee will hold a “mock mark-up” on June 30 of draft implementing legislation that includes reauthorization of TAA. (The three trade pacts were originally negotiated under fast-track authority, which means that no amendments are allowed on the final bills. In such cases, the “mock mark-ups” on drafts allow changes that are then submitted to the President who accepts or rejects them and submits final implementing bills to Congress.) Sen. Baucus also said he had reached agreement with House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and the White House.
In the House, there’s no word yet on possible Ways and Means action, though union-lovin’ Levin — ranking member Cong. Sandy Levin (D-MI) — said in a statement that he’ll support the revised Korea and Panama FTAs, but he’s still opposed to the trade pact with Colombia. Why? Because he wants Colombia’s worker rights Action Plan to be explicitly referred to in the trade agreement. As I noted earlier,
Colombia dutifully incorporated that far-reaching plan that will require it to change its Criminal Code, hire and fund 480 new ‘labor inspectors,’ some of which will focus on specific industry sectors, and a host of other mandates with timetables, purportedly to protect union workers.
So the congressman wants to put in our legislation reference to another country’s laws and domestic affairs? Some had called the Action Plan an intrusion into the sovereignty of another nation. That indeed is the case. Putting that plan into our own laws would be the height of arrogance and would force onto a trade pact detailed diktats for another country, which would undoubtedly lead to disputes down the road. But perhaps that is what Cong. Levin wants — it would provide the unions with another way in the future to put more roadblocks in the way of the free exchange of goods and services.