Rangel, McCrery, USTR bury hatchet

The chairman and ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Friday afternoon publicly reaffirmed their intention to work together on a new trade policy.

Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.) released a joint statement that said they were still actively negotiating on trade policy with all parties and at all levels.

“While there may have been rumors of misunderstandings about language on both sides, there has not been any mistrust,” the statement said. “We will continue working into the foreseeable future to resolve any remaining differences.”

USTR shares the views of Rangel and McCrery, spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said in a separate statement. Hamel said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and her staff “remain engaged in the ongoing discussion and she looks forward to a successful conclusion.”

The statements contrasted with comments Rangel made on Thursday to reporters. The lawmaker said a deal appeared to be at hand, but that Republicans “have serious reservations about what they agreed to.” He said Democrats would need to allay GOP concerns on labor.

A spokesman for Schwab on Thursday said the trade representative had no reservations about what she agreed to last week, and was hopeful the sides would reach a successful conclusion.

Rangel’s comments on Thursday followed reports that a potential deal had hit a snag after a meeting between Rangel and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Organized labor groups have been pushing for the trade deals to be changed so that parties would have to have their labor laws meet principles of the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO). As written, the deals call on parties to enforce their own labor laws.

Labor groups have said they cannot support language that would carve out U.S. labor laws so that they could not be challenged under the trade deals as being inconsistent with ILO principles.

Business group sources, however, say they cannot support any trade deals that could open the door to trade partners challenging U.S. laws as being inconsistent with ILO principles, since this could lead to changes in those laws.

Rangel, McCrery and USTR are trying to reach an agreement on a policy that could allow deals already negotiated with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea to be considered by Congress.