U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leaders quashed White House hopes on Friday for quick renewal of fast track trade negotiating authority and said they cannot support trade pacts negotiated with South Korea and Colombia.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior Democrats said renewing President George W. Bush's expiring authority to negotiate trade agreements, such as faltering efforts to reach a new world trade deal, was not an immediate priority.
Before that debate can even begin, we must expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans, the Democrats said in a statement asserting constitutional authority of Congress over trade.
House Democrats said they would focus instead on legislation to address the growing trade imbalance with China, strengthen enforcement of U.S. trade agreements and laws, and ensure American workers and companies remain the most competitive in the world.
The U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement due to be signed in Washington on Saturday fails to dismantle nontariff barriers that have long blocked U.S. exports of automobiles and other manufactured goods to South Korea, the Democrats said.
We cannot support the (pact) as currently negotiated, they said.
A long history in Colombia of deadly violence against trade union members and concerns about the role of paramilitary forces soured that agreement for the Democrats.
We believe there must first be concrete evidence of sustained results on the ground in Colombia before Congress votes on the pact, the Democrats said.
Earlier this week, Peru's legislature approved amendments demanded by U.S. Democrats that incorporate an obligation to abide by core international labor standards, such as the right to strike, into a free trade pact with that country.
The same language was put into a deal with Panama signed on Thursday, but Democrats now want both countries to actually change their labor laws before Congress votes on the pacts.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, will lead a congressional delegation to Peru and Panama in August to press for that action.
That is a setback for the Bush administration, which hoped Congress would approve the Peru pact in July and believes the country has done all it needs to do right now under a deal the White House reached with congressional Democrats in May.
Peru has fulfilled its obligations under the bipartisan deal we reached with the Congress and we fully expect the Congress to abide by their end of the deal, said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office.
BYE-BYE FAST TRACK
The Democrats' statement came a few hours after the White House lectured lawmakers for not renewing Bush's trade promotion authority, which expires on Saturday.
The unfortunate result of this is that other countries around the world will continue to negotiate free trade agreements with each other, while the U.S. is forced to sit on the sidelines, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez also called for its renewal.
Trade promotion authority, also known as fast track, allows the White House to negotiate trade deals that Congress must approve or reject without making changes.
It is considered essential for U.S. participation in trade talks. The last time it lapsed in 1994, it was eight years before it was renewed.