On Monday President Bush sent the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress for ratification, setting in motion a 90-day limit on action on the bill. In discussions with her caucus Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she plans bring to the House floor a vote Thursday that would indefinitely delay a final vote on the pact.
"It's not really a rule change; it's sort of in keeping with the rules of the House. And that rule will say that we will remove the timetable from the consideration of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It's keeping with how the rules of the House have governed how trade agreements have traditionally been brought to the floor under TPA [Trade Promotion Authority]," she said in a statement.
At the White House Wednesday afternoon several cabinet secretaries joined with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab in opposing Pelosi's action. Schwab said the delay could send the wrong message to other trade partners and weakens the ability of the U.S. to negotiate and implement agreements.
"By the House unilaterally changing the rules, changing its rules -- which it can do -- it is upending decades of U.S. trade policy and U.S. trade law," Schwab said. We would hope that they would not do that, both in terms of the broader implications of U.S. trade policy, but also because the Colombia FTA really does deserve a vote on its merits, and deserves to be enacted into law."
The FTA was signed in November of 2006 and according to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez in that time American exporters have paid more than $1 billion in tariffs while Colombian exports have come into the U.S. duty-free.
"It's profoundly disappointing that Democratic congressional leadership is choosing to change the rules in the middle of the game," said Gutierrez. "We need to stand up for American interest rather than special interest. Without this agreement, American businesses, workers and farmers will lose. If Colombians don't buy our tractors, they'll buy them from Japan. If they don't buy our wheat, they'll buy it from Canada. And if they don't buy our high-tech equipment, they'll buy it from China."
Labor unions largely oppose the deal because of violence against Colombian labor leaders. Most agricultural groups on the other hand widely support the trade agreement. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says, "This decision will not only place a vote on the agreement in limbo, but it is a direct strike at Trade Promotion Authority."