Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus , D-Mont., was forced to cancel a planned "mock" markup of the draft implementing bills for the pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea Thursday. The Committee's Republican members boycotted the meeting leaving Baucus without a quorum to conduct business. The Montana Senator expressed disappointment that his colleagues decided not to join in the discussion of these agreements, stating that the boycott delayed the opportunity to pass important job-creation legislation. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also expressed disappointment stating that Finance Republicans have repeatedly called on the Obama Administration to send these agreements to Congress for a vote. He said the agreements were there and Finance Republicans were not.
Baucus stressed that the pending free trade agreements - together with Trade Adjustment Assistance - will create 250,000 jobs and increase exports by $13 billion. He says that's the growth and job creation the country needs in these tough economic times. He adds that every day we delay we lose ground to our competitors. Korea's trade agreement with the EU enters into force Friday and Colombia's agreement with Canada enters into force in August.
All 11 GOP members of the Finance panel told President Obama in a letter they're opposed to including expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance in the Korea FTA implementing legislation. They argued that each FTA and assistance for displaced workers in export-related industries should be debated and considered on its own merits.
According to National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman the mock markup would have been the beginning of the ratification process in Congress. Tolman, in an article released before Baucus had to cancel the markup, noted the U.S. exported 50.4 million metric tons of corn around the world in 2010, but said those numbers will decrease significantly if the pending FTAs stand idle.
Tolman pointed out that Korea currently is the third largest corn market for the U.S. and potentially important for distillers grains, a growing market he says the U.S. can't afford to lose. He also mentions that Colombia usually is one of the top 10 export markets for U.S. corn - though they are currently importing corn from competitors. By passing the Colombia FTA, Tolman says U.S. corn producers would gain immediate access to a market for 2.1 million metric tons at zero duty. He also explains how corn exports to Panama peaked in 2008 and have since decreased by 20%.
Tolman stressed the need for Congress to act immediately on the pending FTAs to keep jobs in America and increase export opportunities before U.S. competitors win.