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  Dow Jones-Senate GOP: Won`t Back Commerce Nominee Until Trade Pacts Are Sent
  17 มีนาคม 2554

Date: 17 March 2011

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--Senate Republicans threatened Monday to hold up any nominations for Commerce Secretary or any other trade posts until President Barack Obama submits all three trade agreements left  over from the previous administration.

The letter by 44 Republican senators marks the first concrete move by trade advocates in Congress to force the administration to move forward on free-trade deals with Colombia and Panama. While technical discussions have begun between the administration and Congress on submitting a pact with South Korea that has been reworked, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last week that further negotiations are needed before the other two are ready.

Kirk`s office responded to the letter by reiterating its stance that Congress should go ahead and pass the South Korea deal as the negotiations continue on the others.

"Ambassador Kirk has said we have a shared goal to move all three pending trade agreements and we believe we can get there the right way," said USTR spokeswoman Carol Guthrie.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said approval of all three deals is long overdue.

"We believe that Korea, Panama and Colombia all should be sent up forthwith, as rapidly as possible," McConnell said at a briefing to announce the letter.

The letter says that until Obama submits the Colombia and Panama deals to Congress and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, "we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees."

McConnell drew the line at actually voting down the South Korea deal if it is sent up first, saying, "I`m not going to vote against an agreement I`m in favor of."

With Commerce Secretary Gary Locke tapped to be the next ambassador to China, the opening provides a "perfectly reasonable" opportunity to give the administration an incentive to move more quickly on the 
stalled trade pacts, he said. It could also provide "a pretty good excuse" for the president to stand up to unions that continue to opposed the deals, he said.

McConnell also signaled some flexibility in the specific process of submitting the deals to Congress.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) told Kirk last week that he doesn`t think the South Korea deal would pass unless all three are submitted as a package or "locked" closely together.

When asked about whether Republicans would consider some type of commitment to link the deals, McConnell said they would listen to any proposals from the administration. However, Baucus dismissed the Republican letter as "a diversion from our goal and is simply not the way to ensure their passage."

Meanwhile, key Republicans on trade issues in the House--Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and trade subcommittee head Kevin Brady (R., Texas)--welcomed the move by their Senate colleagues.

"The White House`s refusal to act on all three makes no sense, and our colleagues in the Senate are absolutely right -- the time for action on the pending free-trade agreements is now," said Camp and Brady in a statement.

Michael Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs, said Monday that setting a deadline would be a poor negotiating tactic.
But he said the administration is "keenly focused on resolving the outstanding issues" with Colombia and would submit the deal as soon as those are settled.

Colombia`s ambassador to the U.S. said earlier in the day that talks last week between the two countries were constructive, with both sides sharing a "sense of urgency."

Gabriel Silva said his administration has made clear the original text of the agreement hashed out more than five years ago isn`t up for renegotiation, but that he understands the Obama administration is "comfortable with that."

However, he said the Colombian government is open to discussing issues outside the core agreement, and that the two governments hope to resume talks within the next couple of weeks.

Kirk told senators last week that the issues related to Colombia fall outside the free-trade agreement, including "serious" concerns about protection for labor organizers and a strong judiciary.


Keywords: Obama / Trade / Agreement / Congress / U.S.