House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, joined by representatives Charles Rangel and Sander Levin, outlined the timeframe for congressional consideration of pending trade agreements with Peru, Panama, and Colombia.
In August, key members of Congress, including House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Rangel, will travel to Peru and Panama to meet with executive and legislative branch officials. The congressional delegations will determine key factors necessary to be able to pass the agreements. For the lawmakers, this first-hand experience should allow for a direct exchange of concerns and views among interested parties. Topping the agenda, members aim to discuss potential Peruvian and Panamanian law modifications necessary to reflect the environment and labor provisions stipulated in the proposed trade agreements. If changes to existing laws are made, it is anticipated that the Peru and Panama agreements will be brought to a vote in the fall.
The U.S.-Colombia agreement faces a tougher path and passage is far from certain. Democratic congressional leaders (Representatives Pelosi, Hoyer, Rangel, and Levin) stated that Colombia “deserves our active engagement” and passed funding for Plan Colombia. However, the leaders noted “widespread concern in Congress about the level of violence in Colombia” and added they “cannot support the Colombian Trade Promotion Agreement at this time.”
Ambassador Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative, is calling on Congress to renew the President’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expired on June 30, 2007. TPA, otherwise known as fast track, allowed for the President to negotiate international trade agreements then subject to an up-or-down vote, but not amendment, in Congress. With an extension, she argues that the U.S. will remain open for business and be able to join other countries in negotiating and concluding regional free-trade agreements. The administration sees fast track as the most critical tool for promoting the U.S. trade agenda.
With the Doha Round of world trade talks stalled and no other trade agreements ready to be signed, congressional skeptics do not see fast track as necessary. Speaker Pelosi and House leaders recently addressed TPA: “Our legislative priorities do not include the renewal of fast track authority. Before that debate can even begin, we must expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans.”
If passed, this year’s farm bill renewal would continue to aid the domestic sugar industry. The market loan rate for cane and beet sugar would be raised, providing a small boost in commodity assistance. Overall, agricultural subsidies, which already are scrutinized by global trading competitors, would be extended with little modification and would continue to thwart multilateral trade negotiation progress.
The bill also seeks to increase exports and expand trade, with additional funding provided for the Market Access Program. In total, funding would be raised from $200 million to $225 million per year—an increase of $125 million over five years.
The program would continue to create, maintain and expand foreign markets for U.S. agricultural, fishery and forestry products.
The new farm bill also aims to expand energy programs. The bill directs $500 million to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses to invest in renewable energy systems and to make energy efficiency improvements. Further, $1.5 billion would be dedicated to continuing the bioenergy program, which provides incentives increasing ethanol and biodiesel production. An additional $2 billion in biorefinery loan guarantee authority would help to finance the development and construction of refineries and productions plants.
The farm bill recently passed the House Agriculture Committee and should see a quick vote in the House of Representatives before consideration begins in the Senate.