Engler: Optimistic About Colombia FTA

By April 17, 2008Trade

National Association of Manufacturers’ President John Engler sat down over lunch with a cete of trade reporters today to talk about the Colombia FTA, NAFTA, Doha and the politics of trade. The meeting coincided with an NAM release in which Gov. Engler called for quick consideration of the agreement in Congress.

Good discussion, albeit one that focused on process and politics more than the merits of the U.S. Colombia Free-Trade Agreement. But then, the case for the Colombia FTA is pretty clear cut, and Speaker Pelosi’s changing the rules in the middle of the game is the current issue. And in Washington, process and politics are often inseparable.

In the end, Gov. Engler thinks the merits and politics combine to win passage of the Colombia trade deal.

I actually believe we’re going to get the Colombian agreement. Put me down in the optimist camp, here. The reaction to the House has been so uniformly negative.
Every editorial I’ve seen across the country…it doesn’t make any difference as far as from the right or the left, anywhere along the spectrum, everybody’s been is unanimous.

I say unanimous, because I’m at this point aware of anybody who’s gone the other direction. There may be somebody, but the editorials I’ve seen – so you’ve got that factor.

Also, I think the 36 or so Democrat senators and former Administration officials, that group that spoke out (is) very, very important for trying to reestablish some type of a center that can hold on trade issues, because we’ve got to get back to a bipartisanship on these trade issues.

The Wall Street Journal took note of that Democratic officials’ letter (actually 35 signators) in an editorial yesterday in “Democrats for Colombia.”

A .mp3 sound-file of this particular part of today’s discussion is available here. The boss goes on to talk about Ways & Mean Chairman Rangel’s political stake in the issue — the chairman had negotiated the inclusion of new environmental and labor standards — and the possibility that the Speaker’s maneuver was undermining a future Democratic president’s ability to negotiate on trade.

A transcript of this portion of the discussion is posted in the extended entry below.


NAM President John Engler:

I actually believe we’re going to get the Colombian agreement. Put me down in the optimist camp, here. The reaction to the House has been so uniformly negative. Every editorial I’ve seen across the country…it doesn’t make any difference as far as from the right or the left, anywhere along the spectrum, everybody’s been is unanimous.

I say unanimous, because I’m at this point aware of anybody who’s gone the other direction. There may be somebody, but the editorials I’ve seen – so you’ve got that factor.

Also, I think the 36 or so Democrat senators, and former Administration officials, that group that spoke out (is) very, very important for trying to reestablish some type of a center that can hold on trade issues, because we’ve got to get back to a bipartisanship on these trade issues.

We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary in May of the rewriting of the Colombia deal. It’s been signed for almost two, now, but we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of when Chairman Rangel made the deal, and that’s been all done. So I think the dynamics are that Chairman Rangel’s word is on the line, and while he can defer to the Speaker for a while, I don’t think that deference can be sustained without doing great harm to his credibility at a point.

I think the senior Democrats out of the Congress recognize the perilous path we’re on, and I think there’s an argument that should be made, and that’s fine if it’s made kind of quietly. But there’s a lot of confidence on the part of the majority that they’re going to win the presidency. And whether that’s misplaced or not, they should want to have that president be in a position to be able to negotiate trade deals somewhere in the world, even to go negotiate the perfect trade deals, which is what they’re calling for us to negotiate. But without any authority you’re going to take office in ’09, and the cupboard’s going to be pretty empty. It’s going to be pretty hard to find a trade negotiator at that point. There’s nothing really to negotiate.

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