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Posted at 11:31 AM ET, 02/20/2011

Why isn't the Colombia free-trade deal done?

By Jennifer Rubin

Much has been written about the president's lack of leadership on the budget and entitlement reform. But far less scrutiny has been directed at the administration's slothfulness when it comes to concluding free-trade deals. The Associated Press. reported:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio demanded Thursday to know why Colombia has been forced to wait since 2006 for Congress to ratify a free-trade agreement with it.

,p>During his maiden subcommittee hearing on Western Hemisphere affairs, the Republican freshman half-jokingly asked State Department officials where he could find the list of requirements Colombia must check off to get the treaty approved. Congressional opponents have long cited concerns about attacks on Colombian labor leaders for their opposition to approving the treaty.

Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela responded that a U.S. delegation is headed to Colombia to step up talks to get the agreement approved but said he did not immediately have an answer for the freshman senator.

Rubio grilled Valenzuela, pointing out that Colombia isn't simply waiting around for the United States to act, but is pursuing its own deals with other trading partners.

What is missing is some sense of urgency by the administration. In his State of the Union address the president declared, "Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That's what we did with Korea, and that's what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks." But two years since he took office, the Colombia and Panama deals languish.

The problem isn't in the Senate. A Senate Republican aide tells me, "We're just waiting on the White House to submit the agreement to Congress. Because there isn't significant opposition from Democrats, the only thing standing between this agreement and enactment is the White House having not submitted it." In fact, Democrats in the Senate are trying to move things along. Sen. Max Baucus (D- Mont.) is going with the ambassador to South America and bringing along a large delegation of ranchers, businessmen and farmers who would benefit from the deal. A local news station reported:

"Montanans make the best products in the world, and they also make the best ambassadors. So I'm proud to bring Montana farmers and business owners down to Colombia and Brazil to make the pitch for selling more of our world-class products in these important markets," Baucus said in a news release. "Increasing demand for Montana-made products increases demand for Montana workers, and that means good-paying jobs for our state. Good-paying jobs is what this trip is all about."

Baucus and Sen. Orin Hatch (R- Utah) have also sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk reminding him that he is due back "to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on March 9, 2011. At that time, we expect that you will come prepared to (1) identify specifically any additional steps that the Administration believes Panama or Colombia should take; and (2) provide a clear and expeditious timetable for moving both agreements through the U.S. Congress." The senators' impatience is evident.

If the president is really looking for a bipartisan accomplishment, perhaps it is time to wrap up this and other free-trade deals. It might dispel the impression that the administration is dragging its feet at the behest of its organized labor backers (who we know from the Wisconsin confrontation have an ardent fan in the president). They have opposed free-trade deals every step of the way, which just might explain why deals so obviously in America's interest haven't been completed.

By Jennifer Rubin  | February 20, 2011; 11:31 AM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Comments

President Obama has his little hands full hammering Israel for the time being.
He is also far too busy shoving his nose into the affairs of state in Wisconsin.
With the Commander in Chief so busy with these either trivial, unnecessary, or none of his business affairs, you can hardly expect him to be able to deal with his own bailiwick.

Posted by: Beniyyar | February 20, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Obama is waiting for the AFL-CIO to give him permission. It doesn't matter to Obama that Colombia is our most important ally in the region and that the agreement would benefit both economies. The unions own Obama.

Posted by: eoniii | February 20, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

The funny thing is, just about all Colombian goods can enter this country without tariffs already via other agreements. The free-trade one will help get US goods into Colombia. So we need it more then they do!

Posted by: nomad_990 | February 20, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

nomad_990 is entirely correct, the long-pending agreement would reduce tariffs and duties on US made exports to Colombia. The agreement would benefit heavy industrial companies with union workforces like Caterpillar.

It's been a no-brainer for years.

Posted by: SCMike1 | February 20, 2011 3:46 PM | Report abuse

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