U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Thursday it is doubtful that the House will vote this year on pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Hoyer (D-Md), said he supports the bilateral agreements and wanted to see them pass eventually, but that there still need to be assurances that the deals abide by existing trade rules.
Hoyer’s office confirmed details of his remarks, which were made at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
The George W. Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia in 2006 and the accords with Panama and South Korea in 2007. But they will not go into effect until they are approved by the House and the Senate.
Former President Bush and Republicans pushed for congressional action, but trade deals have been relegated to the back burner since Democrats gained the majorities in Congress in 2007. Democrats, and their labor allies, are generally more wary of free trade deals, saying they contribute to the loss of American jobs.
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in its annual trade policy agenda released last month, said it continues to believe that the three agreements “can bring significant economic and strategic benefits.” But it said “serious questions” remain about some aspects of the agreements and “we will continue to engage with the governments of Panama, Colombia, and Korea as we further refine our analysis of these issues.”
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade, at a news conference Monday did not rule out taking up any of the deals this year, but said they all needed more work which would delay congressional consideration.
Among the issues, Levin said that Colombia still has problems with guaranteeing worker rights.
Reps. Dave Camp and Kevin Brady, top Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, said last month that “the best way to promote exports is to act on the pending trade agreements and open new markets in which we can sell American-made goods and services. The president has admitted these agreements could create over 250,000 American jobs, yet Democrats in Congress refuse to work on, let alone pass, a new trade agreement.”
They were responding to President Barack Obama’s plan to promote exports by passing pending free trade deals.