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. (continue reading…)