Three countries lobby to minimize fallout of political tug-of-war


South Korea, Panama and Colombia are lobbying to cement U.S. trade agreements that have been embroiled in political jockeying between the White House and Congress, recently filed foreign lobbying disclosures show.

On May 16, the White House announced President Obama will not sign the three trade agreements without Congress passing a job training legislation for workers displaced by foreign competition. Senate Republicans retaliated by threatening not to confirm President Obama’s choice for Commerce Secretary nominee. Soon after this impasse, the three countries upped their lobbying presence in Washington pushing their agenda for their country's free trade agreements.

On March 14, Senate Republicans said that they would respond to the lack of a trade agreement for Panama and Colombia by “withholding support for any nominee for Commerce Secretary and any trade-related nominees.“ At first, this letter did not mention the trade agreement with South Korea.Three days later, representatives of the lobbying group hired by South Korea, Fierce, Isakowitz & Balock, paid a visit to Sen. Mitch McConnell, FARA records show. In statements made after that visit, in May, Sen. McConnell, R-Ky., added South Korean trade to the bargain.

So far in 2011, employees of Fierce, Isakowitz & Balock reported making 14 contributions to members of Congress, including Sen. Orrin Hatch R-Utah, one of the three most publicized signatories of the March 14 letter.

Later, the lobbyists met with John Lieber, Policy Advisor to Senator Mitch McConnell on May 18 the same day as the McConnell’s press release denouncing linking trade agreements for “South Korea, Colombia and Panama” to Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation, providing job training to displaced workers.

South Korea which has had a lobbying presence in Washington for some time paid $305,000 to Fierce, Isakowitz & Balock last year to advocate “with members of Congress and their staff and USTR [the United States Trade Representative] for passage of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement.”

Other Korean business conglomerates are also registered to lobby with FARA. The Korean Business Center recenlty hired six new people. The Korea International Trade Association hired Thomas Capitol Partners, Inc. for $405,000 in the last 6 months to help deal with trade and other issues. On May 24, Thomas Capitol Partners also registered the South Korean Embassy as their new client.

South Korea is not the only country lobbying for these trade benefits. Panama and Colombia have recent FARA filings too. Panama hired Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti on May 16 pushing for a free trade agreement. According to the contract, the country paid the firm a $25,000 plus expenses per month.

Colombia hired Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart, Inc. recently and has two other lobbyshops the Sharp and Barnes and the Fratelli Group as their representatives in Washington. The Government of Colombia paid Fratelli Group $275,000 for professional services in 2010 and signed a contract with Peck et al for $100,000 in April 2011.