Sending Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress Without Democratic Leaders’ Nod Dooms Pact That Already Faced Uncertain Prospects Because of Unionist Assassinations, NAFTA-Style Provision

Sending Free Trade Agreement to Congress Without Democratic Leaders’ Nod Dooms Pact That Already Faced Uncertain Prospects Because of Unionist Assassinations, NAFTA-Style Provisions

Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch Division

This agreement was already in trouble in Congress because of Colombia’s shameful record of labor leader assassinations and violence against Afro-Colombian communities. By insulting the Democratic congressional leadership in such a public manner by forcing a vote without addressing their concerns, President Bush will guarantee both the first defeat of a trade pact by Congress and that the administration will get the blame for that outcome.

The Bush administration has let its electoral calculations and contempt for Congress take priority over its stated goal of passing this agreement. Some people think that the Bush administration’s arrogance and general disdain for Congress led to this colossal misstep of sticking the Democratic leadership in the eye by announcing it will unilaterally send the agreement to Congress, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s public warnings not to do so until Colombia’s horrific labor rights record was addressed. Some think the administration recognized that the pact simply could not pass now, so it decided to sacrifice it, hoping the fight would distract unions and other Democratic base constituencies from their 2008 election campaigning and that the pacts’ defeat would discourage business interests whose contributions to Democrats have soared because they recognize that Democrats will be running Congress for the foreseeable future.  

Bush’s move reveals to U.S. trade partners that the administration’s arrogance and partisanship take priority over its commitment to trade policy or its vaunted support of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. If the Bush administration believed its oft-repeated talking point that this agreement is vital to U.S. national security interests, it would not send it to certain defeat, but rather would work with Democrats to pressure Colombia’s president to stop labor leader assassinations and forced displacements and murders of Afro-Colombians, and leave the agreement for consideration in the future when conditions had improved.

In the 33 years since the Fast Track trade agreement process was first established, no past president has exercised Fast Track’s extraordinary procedure that forces a vote on a trade agreement over the objection of congressional leaders. In this instance, both Democratic congressional leaders and the few Democrats inclined to support the Colombia agreement made clear that dismissing the role of Congress and insulting the speaker by sending the pact without her consent would unify Democratic opposition. By deciding to force the vote this way, Bush has put the few Democrats inclined to support the deal into a position of either having to oppose it or sanction the administration’s public insult of the speaker and other Democratic leaders. 

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