Colombia boosts lobbying for trade deal

The Colombian government has signed two prominent lobby firms to help secure passage of its long-anticipated free trade agreement with the United States.
Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart, Inc. has signed a four-month, $100,000 contract with Proexport Colombia, the country’s trade and tourism agency, to provide “government affairs consulting,” according to Justice Department records. The agreement is set to run from April 13 to August 12 this year.

“The main purpose would be to work towards opening the U.S. market and services to Colombia by seeking the approval of the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (‘The FTA’),” the contract states.

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Five of the firm’s lobbyists have registered to represent Colombia, including Peter Madigan, once a senior aide to Secretary of State James Baker, and J. Jonathon Jones, ex-chief of staff to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), according to Justice records.

Peck Madigan has lobbied for the Colombian government off and on since 2006.

Proexport Colombia has also hired Elmendorf | Ryan to lobby for passage of the trade deal, according to a Colombian government official. 

This will be the first foreign government client for the firm, known for its ties to Democrats. Steve Elmendorf is a former senior adviser to ex-House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Jimmy Ryan once was chief counsel and floor policy director for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). 

The lobby firms' contracts come as Washington gears up for passage of pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea this summer. Since last year’s mid-term elections, President Obama has announced plans to move forward on all three.

That has earned the president praise from business groups but criticism from labor, especially for moving forward on the Colombia deal. Unions oppose the deal because of Colombia’s poor record of violence against trade unionists in the country.

To improve that record, the Obama administration and the Colombian government agreed to a labor action plan. That has helped set up a path forward for the agreement on Capitol Hill.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the panel’s chairman, said once Colombia meets its second stage of commitments under the plan, due on June 15, he understands that the administration will submit the trade deal to Congress for approval. 

Baucus also said the three pending trade deals should move through Congress “in tandem” with an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which helps workers hurt by trade and expired earlier this year.  That could slow the agreements’ approval as some Republicans have resisted extending TAA.