Senate Republicans ratcheted up pressure for passage of Colombia and Panama trade pacts this week with a letter warning they would potentially filibuster a commerce secretary appointment. In a March 14 letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the 44 GOP legislators wrote: “Until the president submits both agreements to Congress for approval and commits to signing implementing legislation into law, we will use all the tools at our disposal to force action, including withholding support for any nominee for commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees.” With U.S. President Barack Obama naming Commerce Secretary Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China, the White House will announce an appointee to head the Commerce Department to replace him. That nominee could face a challenge gaining approval if the Obama administration chooses not to seek approval of the Colombia and Panama deals at the same time as a South Korea deal.
Could trade deals with Colombia and Panama see action from the U.S. Congress along with the South Korea pact? Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave one of the strongest indications yet that the Obama administration wants all three free-trade agreements (FTAs) passed this year during yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing. “They're overwhelmingly in our favor economically and if we don't do it, what it means is that business just goes to other countries,” said Geithner. “So we need to find a way to pass them.” For more than three years, the deals have been gathering dust while awaiting congressional approval. But President Barack Obama’s job creation push coupled with pressure from key Republican legislators to pass the FTAs could help usher the deals through U.S. Congress within the coming months.
Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) spoke with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about Washington’s Latin American ties, saying, “It’s our own region and if I might say so, we’ve kind of neglected it in a bipartisan way.” The former U.S. ambassador to the UN discussed the need for a hemispheric accord on transnational crime as well as the shifting U.S.-Cuban relationship, which he called “the best that I’ve seen in a long time.” But he cautioned that movement on trade deals and immigration reform may have to wait until next year. “What you will see if there isn’t bipartisan, comprehensive [immigration] reform is more patchwork laws like Arizona’s, which are not just unconstitutional—they’re very discriminatory, they’re divisive,” he said. He added: “They hurt our foreign policy relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean.”
AS/COA Online: To start off, I’d like to talk about Mexico. The Obama administration has referred to a “shared responsibility” in the fight against organized crime in Mexico. As a border-state governor who also has a personal connection to Mexico, if you had to name one area for the U.S. to prioritize in its policy toward Mexico’s security situation, what would it be?
Gov. Richardson: It would be in the area of more shared intelligence with Mexico, and secondly, more cooperation in the area of restricting automatic weapons going into Mexico—a cooperative effort that I believe can be improved. On the issue of shared intelligence, it’s going to mean our joint security operations not just having more opportunities to do training and law enforcement activities. I support the Merida Initiative’s plan makes of additional helicopters. But we have to more effectively share intelligence, especially on the Mexican side.