K Street Gears Up for Trade

Bush Deal With Democrats Gives Four Proposed Free-Trade Agreements a Boost

Posted May 15, 2007 at 6:31pm

After hitting the pause button on their lobbying efforts while Congressional Democrats and the Bush administration negotiated a deal to move stalled free-trade agreements forward, K Streeters rooting for the passage of those agreements have kicked back into action this week.

“It’s important that, since this landmark deal has been established, that we move quickly on the free trade agreements,” said Democratic lobbyist Scott Parven, whose firm Parven Pomper Schuyler represents the government of Panama, where, along with Peru, Colombia and South Korea, free-trade agreements are pending. “My job is to work closely with the moderates in the House and Senate, especially freshmen and sophomores, to talk about the importance of trade.”

As part of that effort, the vice president and foreign minister of Panama, Samuel Navarro, is spending this week on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, he met with members of the New Democrats group and the Ways and Means Committee, including Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Jim McCrery (R-La.). Today, he plans to sit down with members of the Blue Dog Coalition to urge their support. He also plans to meet with labor leaders and business lobbyists.

“We have a full agenda of meetings,” Navarro said Tuesday. “This is much more than a trade agreement. We have a long history with the United States, and this just enhances that relationship. It will open our market to U.S. products.”

Navarro said the agreement with his country should be viewed as noncontroversial with no labor or environmental problems.

But already some labor leaders and free-trade opponents have blasted the deal Congressional Democrats made with the Bush administration, saying it doesn’t go far enough. They, too, are taking their message to Capitol Hill.

Alan Tonelson, a fellow with the U.S. Business & Industry Council, which has opposed recent free-trade agreements, including the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement, said the Democrats’ deal won’t cut it.

“It is completely unsatisfactory and ignores a lot of real problems,” he said. For one, “it completely ignores the problems created for U.S. workers in particular by the decision of U.S. trade policy to target very low-income countries, which has turned our trade policy into an outsourcing policy.”

Tonelson said the Democrats’ deal with the Bush administration has made his worst fears come true: that it will provide sufficient cover for moderate Democrats and other Members who are otherwise concerned about free-trade agreements to vote in favor of at least some of the agreements and could provide a push toward fast-track renewal this summer.

Fast track, also known as trade promotion authority, allows the president to negotiate trade deals and gives Congress only an up-or-down vote without an opportunity to add amendments.

“It is tragic that most of the trade policy critics in the Democratic party and in those interest groups that work very closely with the House Democrats focused too narrowly on the labor and environmental provisions as issues of trade policy, which has certain importance, but it’s mainly symbolic,” Tonelson said. “We’re going to try to persuade those Members of Congress that have been critical of trade policy, that there are many more important problems with our current trade policy than the lack of enforcement of labor and environmental provisions.”

A labor source said his group is still reviewing the details of the Peru and Panama agreements, but this source said labor leaders were not pleased by last week’s announcement between Democratic leaders and administration officials about the deal.

“Everyone was very surprised about the press conference last week,” the labor source said. “I think labor is always very anxious about what’s going on in trade deals, and having a surprise press conference didn’t do anything to instill confidence in where this is headed.”

Labor leaders including Leo Girard, who heads the United Steelworkers union, were expected to meet in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office on Tuesday to discuss details of the deal.

David Martin of the AFL-CIO’s Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America said that while his union applauds the efforts of Congressional Democrats, “there are a host of issues that have gone unaddressed in this deal.”

As for the business community, Brigitte Gwyn, a trade lobbyist for the Business Roundtable, said her group does not have any grass-roots efforts planned yet for the upcoming Memorial Day recess. But she said she and her allies from a wide swath of businesses will participate in perhaps hundreds of Hill meetings in the next two weeks.

That effort will not be limited to just the FTAs with Peru and Panama, she said. The business groups will step up the pressure to renew fast-track, which expires this summer.

“We are going to start increasing our number of meetings on the Hill, as well as communicating the benefits of moving TPA. You’ll see an intense fight with regard to lobbying,” she said. She also is in the planning stages of buying issue advertisements.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s trade lobbyist Christopher Wenk, which like the BRT is part of the Trade for America Coalition, said trade is going to be a focus for business leaders.

“There aren’t many issues that are going to be moving forward in the 110th Congress, and trade is going to be one of them,” he said. “The onus is on the business community to push our message.”