Bloomberg News

House Democrats Resist Colombia Free-Trade Pact Backed by Obama

October 05, 2011

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee said they oppose legislation for a Colombia free-trade agreement submitted by President Barack Obama because it does too little to protect that nation’s workers.

The Colombia deal, one of three debated in the committee today, was reached under President George W. Bush and revised by Obama. The accords had been stymied in a stalemate with Republicans over aid for workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. Obama submitted legislation on Oct. 3 after Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would consider the worker assistance in tandem with the trade deals.

Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, senior Democrat on the panel, said he plans to oppose the Colombia agreement because labor-rights assurances Obama won from the South American nation in a so-called Action Plan aren’t in the bill. Levin said he will support the South Korea pact after Obama negotiated terms for auto tariffs and the Panama deal after Obama reached agreement on exchanging tax information.

“There remain troubling problems with how Colombia is addressing key elements related to the Action Plan,” Levin said. “The flaws are magnified by the failure to incorporate the Action Plan in the implementation bill as a result of the adamant refusal of Republicans, and the Obama administration’s acquiescence to that refusal.”

Union Opposition

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest federation of labor unions and a frequent Democratic ally, has urged lawmakers to oppose the Colombia deal, saying the nation remains the world’s most dangerous for workers. Fifty-one Colombian union members were killed last year, up from 47 in 2009, according to the National Union School, a labor- rights organization based in Medellin, Colombia.

The three trade pacts are “lousy” deals that will destroy 159,000 jobs by encouraging companies to send work overseas, Trumka said yesterday in a Washington speech. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the trade agreements will prevent the loss of 380,000 jobs.

The South Korea deal, the biggest since the North American Free Trade Agreement, would boost U.S. exports by as much as $10.9 billion in the first year in which it’s in full effect, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. The accord with Colombia would increase exports by as much as $1.1 billion a year.

Not all Democrats are opposed to the Colombia legislation. Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin said he didn’t share Levin’s concern that leaving out Colombia’s labor-rights assurances means that nation wouldn’t honor the pledge. The Obama administration has taken sufficient steps to ensure the improvement of security for Colombian workers, he said in vowing to support the bill.

“The longer we’re on the sidelines, the greater the market share we’re going to be losing in these countries,” he said.

The bills are H.R. 3078 for Colombia, H.R. 3079 for Panama and H.R. 3080 for South Korea.

--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at

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