A take-it-or-leave-it deal from the White House on free trade agreements could spell trouble for the FTAs that are now reaching a critical juncture in their long history.
It's down to decision time for the Colombia, Panama and South Korea free trade deals, which are worth billions for U.S. agriculture. Yet former USDA Trade Adviser Paul Drazek says there's no White House-Hill GOP deal on attaching Trade Adjustment Assistance for trade-displaced workers to the Korea FTA.
"It sounds to me like the Administration is getting ready to go ahead and send the three free trade agreement implementing bills forward with TAA attached to the Korea one," Drazek said.
But Drazek says the take-it-or-leave-it approach on FTAs with Trade Adjustment Assistance opposed by Republicans in the Korea bill could backfire, with House Republicans ditching Korea and sending the Senate just Panama and Colombia.
"But the Democrats in the Senate have control and they aren't going to want to vote on two of the agreements without knowing that the TAA is going to be included at some point," Drazek said. "So my guess is that they would all vote against the other two and we wouldn't get any of the three agreements get through."
Drazek says without TAA the President and Senate Democrats would have no political cover with their union allies. He says bottom, no fig leaf, no deal, even as the clock ticks down to the August recess. A crowded fall calendar clouds FTA prospects even further.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus says the time left until the early or mid-August recess is very short when considering the need to deal with the debt crisis.
"We're looking at a couple of weeks at the most, which is a very, very small window when you're talking about moving stuff on Capitol Hill," Bacus said. "If they fail to get anything done before they leave for the August recess they could put the fate of the FTAs in severe jeopardy because when you get into the fall they still have all the spending bills to take care of and you're getting into the election seasons."
Bacus says the situation's very concerning to NCBA. Once the beef industry loses market share in a place like Korea, he argues that it's gone and very hard to get back.