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

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April 11, 2008 5:37 PM

Washington Dems unsure of Colombia trade deal

Posted by David Postman

Democrats in Washington’s Congressional delegation run from cold to lukewarm on the pending trade deal with Colombia. I wrote yesterday about Republican support for the deal, and efforts to get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on the agreement.

But even among Democrats with pro-trade credentials, the Colombia deal is finding only the weakest support. And it is being seen from some corners as an important showdown with President Bush.

Sen. Patty Murray has voted for every free trade agreement that has come to the Senate since she took office, said her spokeswoman, Alex Glass. On Colombia, Glass said:

She does have some serious concerns surrounding Colombia, but a decision has not yet been made.

Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to see Trade Adjustment Assistance expanded and has concerns about the specifics of the Colombia deal, said spokeswoman Ciaran Clayton:

Columbia must do more with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations to improve protection of human rights and the rule of law. Colombia has made some progress in this area but more must be done.

In the House, Seattle Rep. Jim McDermott, who visited Colombia last fall, said in a statement that President Bush knew that a vote on the deal was predicated on expanding trade assistance.

He tried to jam it down our throats, which is typical Bush bullying. He doesn’t know how to negotiate and he thinks he still has a Republican rubber-stamp Congress. Those days are gone.

Rep. Norm Dicks of Bremerton thinks the Colombia deal was improved last year, and he generally supports free trade agreement. But, said spokesman George Behan,

Norm has stated to our leadership and others that he is "undecided" on Columbia, and he was supportive of the rule change yesterday that postponed House consideration of the bill. Bush's referral of the FTA this week was a merely a way to play politics with the issue, and Speaker Pelosi found a way within the law to use the issue as leverage at a time when he has been intransigent on EVERY major congressional priority. The reality (which Bush has to admit) is that Columbia FTA would have likely been defeated this week if Pelosi brought it to a vote. If he (and Hastings, Reichert, really wants Columbia FTA, they are better off if it is postponed and considered later. Either way, we think the protest is a little hollow, and this is a great example of Congress demonstrating that it is a co-equal branch.

Tacoma Rep. Adam Smith is “leaning in favor,” said spokesman Derrick Crowe.

He still has some reservations, mainly centered around questions as to how well Colombia is protecting their labor organizers. But, were the trade agreement to pass, we’d have more leverage against any violations since labor protections are included in the core of the agreement. He’s still trying to learn as much as he can.

Bainbridge Island Rep. Jay Inslee’s spokeswoman, Christine Clapp, said the congressman did not yet have a position on the agreement. She said he was “still considering the merits and flaws of the agreement.”

I haven’t been able to connect with Rep. Brian Baird of Vancouver or Rep. Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens. But I’ll add their thoughts Monday.

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Posted by upchuck

9:30 PM, Apr 11, 2008


i challenge you to report with more depth than the generalization you used in the first paragraph of "pro-trade". being against so called corporate "free trade" is not an anti-trade position, merely an opinion of what standards should be applied to imported goods in terms of working conditions and environmental protection standards applied to the production of those goods. as such, many of us in the what i suppose you might characterize as the "anti-trade" camp are really quite supportive of the economic and other benefits that healthy trade can create for communities here and abroad.

Posted by bobbyp

8:28 AM, Apr 12, 2008


It's not 'free trade'. It's about the extent to which national borders are open to commerce and upon which terms. Itís the setting of rules to determine winners and losers. US workers are now 'free' to compete against the Chinese in manufacturing, pharmacy companies (patents), and journalists such as yourself.....well, not so much. You might try reading a little Dean Baker on this issue.

'Free trade' deals, as commonly understood, act to redistribute income upward. That so many Democratic politicians have fallen for this claptrap is a major disappointment, betraying either their shamelessly lazy ignorance of economics, or the irresistible call of campaign dollars.

Posted by Javier

10:50 AM, Apr 12, 2008

The Bush administration keeps pushing this trade agreement with Colombia as a payback to Uribe for his support in Irak. The US economy doesn't get any better after approving the agreement. In an election year our congress has to be careful and look at the thousands of local jobs lost with Canada and Mexico.
Colombia's labor organizations have no protections to do their work and dozens die at the hands of paramilitary killers close to the Colombian government.
This FTA clearly doesn't help our economy at home or the democracy in Colombia. So, what is the point? It should be voted down.

Posted by Labor Goon

1:18 PM, Apr 14, 2008

It's not uncommon for these so-called "free trade agreements" to have language that RESTRICTS trade beyond what is currently allowed. One example that comes to mind are clauses inserted at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry that restrict access to generic drugs.

So I agree with Upchuck, and challenge Mr. Postman and his fellow journalists to abandon the use of of the phrase "free trade." Why not just call them "trade agreements" and leave the subjective adjectives to the advocates?

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