U.S. Trade Representative Kirk testified on the President’s 2011 Trade Agenda at the Senate Finance Committee this morning. As expected, the focus was squarely on lack of progress on the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements. Unfortunately, despite an advance request by the Chairman and Ranking Member for a specific timetable on concluding the two agreements, Ambassador Kirk did not provide much of a road map on how the U.S. will proceed in addressing what the Administration feels are outstanding issues in both agreements.
When he appeared in front of the House Ways and Means Committee last month, Kirk promised the Administration wants to move the Korea trade agreement (KORUS) as soon as possible, and it would intensify efforts to resolve outstanding issues in the Colombia and Panama agreements so they could be moved as quickly as possible to Congress for approval –- by the end of 2011 if possible. At the time, we argued that all three agreements need to move as quickly as possible. We still absolutely believe this is the way things should proceed. The agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama have languished since 2007, while our competitors in Europe and Asia continue to move aggressively to open those markets and gain preferential access for their manufactured goods exports.
The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee made it very clear they feel the same way. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) was crystal clear: “The time is long past to ratify the Colombia agreement,” said, continuing, “None of these agreements will pass unless they are all packaged together this year.” Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told Ambassador Kirk that he was tired of unfulfilled promises on Colombia and Panama. “It is the Administration’s inaction that speaks volumes – and these promises we’ve heard are inadequate,” the Senator said. Sen. Hatch pulled no punches in saying that he will view any attempt to move the KORUS FTA without action on Colombia and Panama in a very negative light.
In response, Kirk told the Finance Committee that the Administration sent an interagency team to Colombia to discuss “serious outstanding issues” immediately after his Ways & Means appearance in mid-February. The two sides have had good, productive conversations, and further discussions will take place in the coming weeks — in fact, senior Colombian officials will visit Washington on March 10 for further talks.
“We have had much more engagement, and I am confident we can wrap up these issues. We continue to make progress and I am confident we will be successful,” Kirk said.
In the end, Senator Hatch’s opening statement puts things in the proper light. “America benefits from an aggressive trade agenda that opens new markets around the world,” he said, “but instead of leading the way, we are falling behind our competitors.” We couldn’t agree more. The National Association of Manufacturers wants all three pending trade agreements submitted to Congress and acted upon as quickly as possible. It is clear that the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee –- indeed, nearly the entire Committee on both sides of the aisle judging from their statements — want the same thing.