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ELECTION ALERT: US-Colombia Trade Agreement — Arent Fox 2010 Midterm Election Analysis

November 4, 2010

The midterm elections of 2010 and the widely anticipated shift toward a more Republican Congress will bring significant changes to domestic and foreign policy which will have a major effect on our clients’ business both here and abroad. A lot of people are asking me what the election means for the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (in Spanish, the “TLC”).  My colleagues in the Government Relations Practice Group of Arent Fox haveprepared a special analysis and commentary on the proposed US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement as a result of the mid-term election results.

Read Former Congressman Phil English’s assessment here.

(Read the prepared remarks of US Chamber of Commerce Vice President for International Affairs John Murphy, delivered October 21, 2010, before the election, here.)

The Context

Republicans will assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives, while a narrower Democratic majority retains control of the Senate. While the Republican leadership has historically been sympathetic to “free trade” legislation, many of the new Members of Congress, especially in the House, were elected on a “pro-jobs” platform.

This is the third election in a row in which a significant number of incumbents have been unseated as a result of public unease with Congress’ performance. An unprecedented number of Members of Congress who have never taken a position on “free trade” legislation, and fewer still who have any familiarity with the facts and issues of importance to Colombia, will take office in January 2011.

Who will be the new committee leaders? How well did the “champions” of the US-Colombia agreement do in the elections?

Our collective experience tells us that the increased polarization in Congress and the specter of divided government mean that there will be plenty of new policy initiatives that may crowd out trade legislation. There is some faint hope for increased bipartisan action in the 112th Congress. The voters have clearly indicated that they want results – not partisan bickering and political gamesmanship. The most likely incoming Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, is a mainstream Republican with a long track record of working with Democrats on those issues where they can find common ground. The most likely new House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has disavowed any prospect that the House would shut down the government in a showdown with President Obama. Both new Republican leaders, however, will have to deal with a freshman class that is not likely conciliatory.

Increased partisan differences may mean gridlock even on issues where there might otherwise be common ground. The Administration’s position in favor of the US-Colombia agreement has not resulted in passage before now – but will it be appoint of agreement? Will it come up in the “lame-duck” session between the election and the inauguration of the new Congress in January?

The Discussion

We will have a half hour discussion, with time for questions, with former Arent Fox Senior Government Relations Advisor Rep. Phil English, R-Pa, a former Member of the US House of Representatives. Phil, who served seven terms in the House, representing Western Pennsylvania’s 3rd District from 1995 to 2009, has a special perspective on the incoming leadership of the House. As a Member of Congress, Phil became a strong advocate in the areas of health care, energy, tax, and trade policy. He was a long-time member of the Joint Economic Committee, and Co-Chair of the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute. While serving on the Trade Subcommittee, Phil was a Co-Chair of the Congressional Service Industries Caucus and a member of the President’s Export Council. He was a Congressional Representative to the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meetings and Advisor to the OECD Congressional Leadership Group. Phil is an advocate of public diplomacy and America’s role in world affairs. He served as Co-Chair of the House European Union Caucus, the House Brazil Caucus, the House Morocco Caucus, the House Swiss Caucus, and the House World Bank Caucus.

Before the conference call, Phil will share with participants a short written assessment of the trade picture to help frame the conversation.

We will also hear from Craig Engle about the changes in and agenda of the US Senate. Craig, the founder of the Arent Fox Political Law Group, served as General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) from 1995-2000. Craig regularly acts as counselor to Members of the US Senate, their campaign committees, and candidates on all aspects of election and office-holder laws The Washington Post has described Craig as “a lawyer, a very important lawyer.” In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Chambers USA recognized Craig as one of the nation’s leading political law attorneys.

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