President Obama has made expanding exports a centerpiece of his plan for accelerating the economic recovery, but in recent weeks, his trade agenda has nearly ground to a halt amid partisan feuding.
Although the White House renegotiated a pivotal free-trade agreement with South Korea in December, scoring rare bipartisan praise, House Republican leaders have refused to allow the deal to move forward. They want the administration to make progress first on similar accords with Colombia and Panama that face stiff opposition from labor unions and liberal Democrats.
Wonder what products from those countries are favored by Republicans?
To add to the pressure on the administration, House Republicans in February blocked a big expansion of trade adjustment assistance — which provides cash, training, relocation, job search and other benefits to workers displaced by globalization — from being renewed. Many of the 220,000 workers who took part in the program last year could have their benefits reduced as a result.
Another program, which gives duty-free preferences to 4,800 products from poor countries that are allies of the United States, expired in December after a Republican senator, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, blocked a vote to extend it….
“In 30 years I have not seen trade policy in such disarray as it is now,” said Howard F. Rosen, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a research organization here.
The standoffs have come to overshadow what trade proponents had seen as a major accomplishment: the completion in December of a free-trade agreement with South Korea, the largest such deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994…
The Andean preferences, which began in 1991, have lapsed just as the United States was trying to get Colombia to strengthen labor protections as part of the negotiations to revise the 2006 agreement.
A third program, the Generalized System of Preference, also has expired, but for parochial reasons, not partisan ones. Mr. Sessions, the Alabama senator, blocked the program from being renewed past its Dec. 31 expiration unless changes were made to protect Exxel Outdoors, a sleeping-bag manufacturer with a plant in Haleyville, Ala., from competition in Bangladesh.
As usual, Republican ideology is as suspect as any other agitprop they offer whilst electioneering. Unless pork is protected, unless businesses in the Republican family get special treatment, free trade means as little as civil rights.