The Senate Finance Committee voted to approve the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) bill in a mock markup session Thursday morning, much to the satisfaction of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
“We applaud the bipartisan majorities in the U.S. Senate committee in favor of the FTA. Thank you, Senator Baucus,” declared President Santos on Twitter upon receiving the news of the committee’s decision to approve the draft version of the bill.
Senator Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was responsible for driving the initiative through the legislative body, said newspaper El Espectador.
The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee each held meetings Thursday morning for mock markups of the FTA bill.
Following tradition, the committees each vote on a series of non-binding amendments to the free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, then on the draft bill as a whole.
According to Reuters, President Obama can choose whether to accept or reject the committees’ amendments before sending the final bill to Congress for a vote. Because the bill cannot be amended after the White House submits it to the legislature for a formal vote, today’s mock markup gave the committees an opportunity to recommend provisions to include in the final version of the bill.
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill implement the bilateral free trade agreement signed by the United States and Colombia in 2006. Colombia’s Congress approved the deal in 2008. The agreement grants U.S. exporters tariff-free access to the Colombian market.
Two recently expired U.S. trade preference programs, the Andean Trade Preferences Act and the Generalized System of Preferences, stand to be renewed by the passage of the legislation.
In an opening statement Thursday morning to the Senate Finance Committee’s mock markup of the pending trade agreements, Chairman Max Baucus argued that the Obama administration has effectively dealt with the concerns that have delayed approval of the agreements.
“Colombia agreed to implement a Labor Action Plan. This groundbreaking plan commits Colombia to strengthen labor rights, protect workers and prosecute those who commit violence.”
Not everyone agrees. Reports of ongoing human rights violations and anti-union violence have incited strong opposition from Colombian and U.S. labor unions. As a requisite for the agreement, Colombia must comply with the Labor Action Plan, which the two countries signed in April.
According to the Hill, Democrats have been attempting to add language to the Colombia bill that would make the Labor Action Plan enforceable.
While the approval of the Senate Finance Committee is major step forward for the Colombian FTA, the House Ways and Means Committee must also vote in its favor before it is sent to the executive. The House committee’s mock vote is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.