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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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April 9, 2008 3:15 PM

Reichert pushes for vote on Colombia trade deal

Posted by David Postman

Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation want Democrats to join them in protesting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move to put off a vote on a Colombia free trade agreement.

A letter to Pelosi was circulated among the delegation by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, just back from a weekend trip to Colombia. Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings signed the letter that says:

Free trade is critical to our state’s economy and workers. We represent the most trade-dependent state in the nation. … Delaying free trade agreements signals to our allies that America is closed for trade, and encourages our rivals to exploit new markets. This is unequivocally the wrong message to send in this time of economic uncertainty.
No Democrats have signed on. Reichert says if the situation were reversed, he’d be willing to help Democrats. He issued a statement today saying:
Many times when Republicans were in the majority, my colleagues would call on me to go to my leadership to help the state, for instance when we learned of language that would allow supertankers onto Puget Sound. Today, I urge all of my colleagues in the Washington delegation - including Governor Gregoire - to join together and reject the Speaker’s effort to shelve this vital measure.

President George Bush has been pushing Congress to approve the deal. And as recently as last week, it appeared a vote could be taken soon in the House.

I’m not sure where each of the Democrats stands on the Colombia trade deal. (And if any of them are reading this, please have your staff let us know.)

According to AP:

Most Democrats, backed by organized labor and some human rights groups, are against the Colombia deal. They have cited violence against union organizers in Colombia and have made clear they will not consider further agreements until legislation is passed to expand current programs to help American workers displaced by foreign trade.

"Our focus on Colombia is the continuing violence against trade unionists," said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's legislative director. He said he thought Pelosi's action effectively would stop any action on the agreement this year.

Reichert was in Colombia on a bi-partisan trip arranged by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. He met there with supporters and opponents of the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. Before the trip, Reichert Chief of Staff Mike Shields said Colombia is a “success story.”

Is it perfect? No. But it has made improvements and it is our friend and ally in that part of the world, particularly when they have a neighbor who is fashioning himself to be a Fidel Castro for that part of the world.

Shields said that trade is an important part of U.S. foreign policy “in terms of reaching out around the world” and that it would send a bad message if “you can’t find a way to overcome your differences and work with a country that has been supportive and is an ally like Colombia.”

You can find USTR’s documents on the agreement here. The Citizens Trade Campaign which opposes ratification of the agreement, has information here.

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