White House seeking broad support for three trade deals

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), chairman of the House Trade Working Group, said in a statement on Tuesday that he's disappointed the administration is moving forward on the "flawed" deals.

“Like the majority of Americans, I firmly believe these NAFTA-model trade deals are flawed and will cost our country jobs," he said. 

“Bundling all three agreements might mean the White House can meet Republicans’ demands, but it is a bad deal for U.S. manufacturing and American workers. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to defeat all of them.”

The Obama administration and Congress are working on the technical details of the South Korea and Panama deals, and expect to move forward relatively soon on Colombia once it's determined that the Latin American country is fulfilling the requirements of the so-called action plan. 

Administration officials said they are talking with congressional leaders on how to sequence, time and package the agreements with a broader trade agenda.

Panama completed work Monday on a tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) dealing with Panama's history as a tax haven, the final step in the process, following passage of updated labor laws to protect union organizers and members. 

Froman sought to reassure critics of the Panama deal that it's unlikely that the Treasury Department would move forward on the tax-related issues if officials weren't satisfied with the content. 

The plan "represents a significant change," he said. 

Lawmakers across both parties have not only expressed support for the trade agreements but have urged the White House to pick up the pace to complete the agreements sometime this summer. 

With Korea and Panama moving forward and the prospects for Colombia being set up for completion, the administration also is pushing for a broader discussion encompassing not only the trade pacts but on renewing expired programs to assist displaced workers and provide duty-free preferences to imports from developing countries. Officials also hope to start discussions on lifting trade restrictions with Russia as it seeks to join the World Trade Organization.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Monday called on Republicans to renew the expired provisions of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which the GOP has held hostage to try to force votes on the three FTAs.

Officials are monitoring Colombia's progress on a check-list with deadlines that hit as soon as Friday and go into next year, with ongoing evaluation of the steps being made to set up the agreement for technical talks, Froman said. 

Hitting those marks "paves the way to consider the next step, but first we have to make sure that goals in that agreement are being met," Sapiro said. 

Colombia agreement could be ready for the next step soon, she said. 

During the press call, a representative from Caterpillar managed to get through to say that the company is hoping to get in on the action of expanding the Panama Canal. 

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk notified Congress on Monday that Panama has cleared all the hurdles needed to move forward with deal, setting up the start of technical discussions with Congress.

On Monday, the White House announced that President Obama will meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli next week to discuss next steps for the trade deal. That follows progress made on both the Colombia and Korea deals, setting up all three agreements for likely votes on Capitol Hill this summer.

"I look forward to working with the administration to ensure that all three of our pending trade agreements are considered by Congress by July 1," said House Ways and Means subcommittee on Trade Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), in a Monday statement. 

Brady and Hoyer, along House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Colombia Caucus co-chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Colombia Caucus co-chairman and subcommittee on Trade member Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Subcommittee member Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) left Washington Monday afternoon for two days of meetings in Colombia. 

“The announcement that the United States and Panama have resolved outstanding issues in their trade agreement is excellent news for America’s economy, according to a statement from the Business Roundtable (BRT).

"Congress and the administration are close to finalizing our pending agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama," BRT said. "Together, these trade pacts will create new opportunities for American companies and workers, ensure fairness and accountability in the international economy and open new markets for American goods and services in these countries."

The Panama trade deal has languished before Congress since 2007, along with the other two deals. Auto issues have been resolved in the Korea deal, and the U.S. and Colombia are implementing an action plan to address anti-union violence there. Labor groups remain opposed to the deals.