By Erik Wasson
The head of the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee said in an interview Thursday that one of the things holding up the submission of the Korea free-trade agreement to Congress is the fact the House GOP is negotiating with the administration to obtain a “tight” timetable under which the stalled Colombia and Panama agreements will also come up for a vote.
“I know John Boehner has spoken to the president about timing ... we are seeking a hard deadline, a tight sequence for all three,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said.
Brady said that “whether it's all at once or a defined sequence and timetable, we just have to get them all done.”
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk made clear in a public appearance Thursday that the administration continues to resist tying the Korea free-trade agreement to the other two deals.
“We think as attractive as it might sound to some, it would be a huge mistake to force all of the trade agenda into one lump vote with Korea,” Kirk said. He added that the administration does not want to “short-circuit” the process of fixing the problems with the other two.
Brady countered that Panama last year signed a Tax Information Exchange Agreement with the U.S. to address concerns that it is a global tax haven. Tax issues and labor rights concerns had been holding up consideration of the agreement.
“Panama has jumped through every hoop backwards and forwards,” he said. “It is ready to be submitted.”
Securing a vote on Colombia, which has been stalled due to concerns over anti-union violence, may be more difficult, Brady acknowledged.
“I think we can push hard to have Panama included in that package, we are going to have to identify leverage on Colombia,” he said.
Brady said another reason for the South Korea agreement delay is the fact that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is unhappy that the renegotiated deal did not fully open South Korea to U.S. beef exports.
“They are focused on finding a solution to that,” he said of the Finance Commitee. South Korea blocks beef from older U.S. cows over fears of mad cow disease. Attempts to open the market have caused massive street demonstrations in South Korea in the past.
Kirk said on Thursday said that the administration wants the South Korea agreement approved before the European Union-South Korea FTA goes into effect. If it goes into effect first, European companies will enjoy a substantial tariff advantage for their exports to South Korea over U.S. companies.
A USTR spokeswoman said that the administration continues “to consult with congressional leadership and our committees of jurisdiction on moving forward the appropriate time.”
She said issues remain with the other agreements and that the office is working to resolve them.