Connie Mack, David Rivera Attack White House for Stalling on Latin American Free-Trade Deals
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Two Florida Republicans in Congress are calling out the White House, urging the Obama administration to get cracking on submitting free-trade agreements to Colombia and Panama.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, is spending the week leading a congressional delegation that is visiting those two Latin American nations and Mexico. Mack met with both Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and renewed his call for the White House to send the two trade agreements to Congress.
“I firmly stand behind the progress and efforts being made by our Colombian and Panamanian partners and again call upon President Obama to send forward the important free-trade agreements," Mack said Thursday.
But the White House will not submit the agreements, as well as a pending free-trade agreement with South Korea, to Congress unless the Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA) is extended. The TAA provided benefits for American workers who have lost their jobs due to international trade agreements.
Testifying before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee last week, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk insisted the free-trade agreements were important to the administration -- but so were other matters, including extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and setting the stage for permanent trade relations with Russia.
“Today, the pending agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia are at the forefront of our efforts to open new markets,” said Kirk. “Last week, we started technical discussions with Congress on those agreements, which are part of a broad trade agenda that also includes the reauthorization of a robust Trade Adjustment Assistance program, renewal of the expired trade preference programs, and pursuing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Russia as it joins the WTO.”
Kirk told the committee that the trade agreements with the two Latin American nations would benefit American farmers.
“U.S. agricultural exporters will also gain from the Panama agreement. More than half of current U.S. farm exports to Panama will become duty-free immediately. Other products will gain duty-free access with out-of-quota tariffs reduced over time,” said Kirk. “Many American agricultural commodities will also benefit from the Colombia agreement, as more than half of current U.S. farm exports to Colombia will become duty-free immediately. Virtually all remaining tariffs will be eliminated within 15 years. Overall, the International Trade Commission has estimated that the agreement would expand exports of U.S. goods to Colombia by more than $1 billion, and increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion.”
Republicans maintain that the Obama administration refusing to forward the agreements until the Trade Adjustment Assistance program is extended shows the White House is not serious about them and is merely stalling.
“In his State of the Union address last year, President Obama said that ‘if America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.’
"Actions, however, speak louder than words,” said freshman Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who has joined Mack on the trip, on Tuesday. “The president seems more willing to put roadblocks in the way of the trade pacts, than to allow them to go to Congress for approval.
“Earlier this month it seemed the White House finally recognized the hugely positive impact of all three agreements, and why it is necessary to pass them as a package deal. Now, President Obama is back to playing politics,” added Rivera. “Progress on these pending free-trade agreements is good news for the American economy. By eliminating trade barriers, and increasing the demand for American goods overseas, U.S. GDP and exports would grow by billions of dollars, and thousands of jobs would be created in the United States. The United States, the world’s largest economy, should not be falling behind when it comes to trade. The time has come to approve all three free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, not to further delay approval through stalling tactics.”
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