The House voted Thursday 224-195 to remove the requirement that the House vote on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement within the next 60 legislative days, as provided for under “fast track” rules. The action severely damages prospects for approval of the trade agreement with benefits to U.S. agriculture.

USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward said, “It’s time to vote on this agreement and we are disappointed in today’s House action.

“The agreement contains real, immediate benefits for U.S. rice producers and exporters. The FTA was negotiated in 2006 and removing the 60-day deadline delays implementing an agreement that will deliver strong economic and security benefits to the United States,” Ward said.

The House vote does not preclude a vote by Congress this year, and some speculate that the agreement will be taken up after the November elections.

“USA Rice will continue to press for congressional approval,” USA Rice Senior Vice President Bob Cummings said. “We will also ask that Congress and the administration focus on what’s important in international trade — increasing market opportunities for U.S. products, vigorous enforcement of existing trade agreements, and providing meaningful assistance to those U.S. workers displaced.”

Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, speaking before the Agribusiness Club of Washington, said he is “extremely disappointed” with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to have a vote on delaying the agreement, which he called “an unwise course of action.”

Schafer said the administration was committed to working in a bipartisan manner with Congress on the agreement.