By  on July 2, 2007

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership said renewal of the president's ability to negotiate trade pacts without amendments from Congress wasn't a priority and withdrew support for free trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia.

The announcement marked a major setback for President Bush's agenda and signaled the Democrats' reassertion of authority over shaping trade deals. And it came on the eve of the expiration of the president's trade promotion authority and the signing of a U.S. deal with South Korea.

Lawmakers have repeatedly raised objections to provisions in the South Korean accord, including barriers to U.S. auto imports and beef, as well as the consideration of expanding manufacturing zones in North Korea. There is widespread opposition on Capitol Hill to the Colombian trade deal because of the assassinations of labor leaders in that country and the paramilitary actions.

"We will continue working to improve our trade policy, while at the same time addressing the increased economic insecurity faced by American families," according to a statement from Pelosi (D., Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.).

However, they said trade deals with Peru and Panama could be approved this fall.

The House leaders said they would move forward with legislation targeting the "growing imbalance in trade with China," as well as a bill that will expand the benefits of a domestic aid program for workers displaced by trade.

"We reached a bipartisan deal that Peru has agreed to; Colombia, Panama and [South] Korea are on their way to implementing, and we fully expect Congress to abide by it," said a spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. All the pacts require Congressional approval.

"They are clearly putting China, unfair trade practices and lack of enforcement ahead of a pro-trade agenda," said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. "That is a reversal of trade policy in this country."

Julia Hughes, senior vice president of trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, said the administration can still resolve differences over auto imports with Democrats in the South Korean trade pact, but she acknowledged the deal with Colombia is much more "problematic."

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