The top Democrat on the House’s key trade panel said Monday he won’t support a pending trade pact with Colombia unless a pro-labor action plan negotiated by the Obama administration is included in the legislation.
Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means committee, said Republicans were keeping a worker-protection plan from being written into legislation for the Colombia trade deal, and the White House—which agreed to the plan with Bogota—had “acquiesced.”
“The president is deeply committed to ensuring that Colombia fully implements the ‘Action Plan Related to Labor Rights,’ ” said an administration official. The bill to secure congressional approval for the treaty is aimed only at changing U.S. laws to put the agreement into effect, the White House said.
Colombia has already agreed to change its laws in accordance with the labor-action plan, including a series of steps to comply with international standards for the protection of labor organizers and unionized workers.
A Republican leadership aide confirmed that GOP negotiators opposed including the text of the labor-action plan in the Colombia legislation, adding that they were joined by some Democrats in their opposition.
Mr. Levin’s comments shed light on some of the political horse-trading taking place as the White House and pro-trade legislators scramble to move trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama through Congress before the body’s August recess.
One of the House’s most prominent trade skeptics, Mr. Levin’s support is seen as critical for rallying Democratic votes for all three pacts. He announced his support for the Korea deal last year, after the White House and Seoul added provisions protecting the U.S. auto industry.
Republicans and the White House are at loggerheads over the administration’s demand that Congress renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, along with passing the three deals. GOP leaders object to the $1 billion a year cost of the program, which provides training and other benefits to U.S. workers displaced by overseas competition.
Mr. Levin has said he opposes a trade-opening deal negotiated by the Bush administration with Colombia because the agreement didn’t include strong enough language to protect workers and union organizers in that country. Mr. Levin said he would support the agreement if the pro-labor language were included.
The Obama administration in April negotiated a revised agreement that required Colombia to undertake an action plan to strengthen laws protecting labor organizers and union leaders.
“Worker rights and the action plan deserve to be…focused on, and not shunted aside,” Mr. Levin said in a news conference. “The implementing bill is the only vote that a member casts on a trade agreement and refusal to refer to the Action Plan on Workers Rights is a fatal flaw.”