U.S. Senators are not letting President Obama off the hook for his apparent back-peddling in renegotiating NAFTA, and his apparent wish to get the Colombia, Panama and South Korean free trade agreements through Congress after successful delays from his apparent allies. Excuse me for all this apparentness, but Obama is not beholden to his trade representative, and we really want to believe that renegotiation has not slipped entirely off the table.
“Sen. Sherrod Brown, a free-trade skeptic, said Wednesday he will soon introduce legislation that would effectively delay congressional consideration of the proposed free-trade pacts drafted under President George W. Bush,” reported the Wall Street Journal today. “Speaking before the Washington International Trade Association at George Washington University, Mr. Brown said any effort to finalize the pending agreements would be a continuation of failed Bush policies, and he warned of opposition in Congress.”
“The basic premise of redirecting U.S. trade policy is that we must see evidence that our trade model is working before we pass new trade agreements — whether with Panama, Colombia, or South Korea,” Brown said in his speech. “We must see evidence that our current trade policies level the playing field for U.S. and foreign companies and for U.S. and foreign workers. We must see evidence that our current trade policies link productivity to wages, so that economic activity doesn’t simply enrich top executives, but rather, it raises the standard of living for workers and enriches communities around the world.”
Near the end of his speech, the Senator said that “Congress should give President Obama the authority to negotiate better trade deals. But Congress needs a stronger role in the process. And that means Congress must review, renegotiate, and revitalize trade.
“That’s why Congress should enact the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act that I introduced last Congress and plan to re-introduce in a few weeks,” added Brown. “The TRADE Act is a forward-looking, pro-trade legislation that requires a review of existing trade agreements, and provides a process to renegotiate existing trade agreements. It also outlines principles on labor, environment, investment, and food safety to be included in future trade agreements.”
Prime Minister Harper, on the other hand, said he was “delighted” that Obama was moving away from renegotiation. Meanwhile, he is preparing to ram deals with Colombia and Peru through Parliament as soon as the MPs return from their break.
Despite the media coverage indicating a NAFTA renegotiation is off the table, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk did leave the door open to reforming the agreement somehow.
“What remains to be done is a review of what our actual opportunities are to strengthen NAFTA, and at an appropriate time I will be meeting with my counterparts from Mexico and Canada (to) make some decision on the path forward,” he said, according to the Associated Press. Sounds like a North American Leaders Summit is around the corner, although how much it will borrow from the SPP as opposed to borrowing from Senator Brown’s TRADE ACT is unclear.
But Obama did say last Thursday that enforceable side agreements were a good idea, it was just a matter of timing:
“It would make sense for labor and environmental provisions to be enforceable within that agreement rather than just be viewed as a side agreement. But I recognize that we are in a very difficult time right now economically on both sides of the border and that those kinds of negotiations are going to need to proceed in a very careful and deliberate way, because we don’t want to discourage trade.”