WASHINGTON—The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted today to limit foreign trade preferences on Indian tribal lands to one country – Turkey – after proponents of the measure, resorting to parliamentary tactics, blocked the consideration of a human rights amendment that would have provided investment opportunities to a broader range of qualifying countries, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“The controversy over this preferential trade measure reflects the growing unease in Congress over an increasingly arrogant and aggressive Turkey that uses both high-priced lobbying and heavy-handed bullying to demand special treatment, even as it leaders disdain our values, undermine our interests, and threaten our allies.” said Aram Hamparian, ANCA’s Executive Director. “We are disappointed that the Sarbanes Amendment – a constructive measure which deserved an up-or-down vote – was blocked, not on its merits, but through parliamentary measures.”
“The ANCA joins with all our Armenian, Hellenic, and human rights community partners in expressing our appreciation to Representatives Sarbanes, Pallone, Tsongas and Duncan for all their efforts, and look forward to working with our allies in working reverse this measure in the interest of a strong, balanced, and moral U.S. trade policy,” added Hamparian.
Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes (D-MD) led Committee efforts to amend H.R.2362 – The Indian Tribal Trade and Investment Demonstration Project Act of 2011, a resolution spearheaded by the Turkish lobby to provide special trade incentives for Turkish firms to invest on Indian Tribal lands. Citing concerns about Turkey’s history of repression of its own indigenous populations and reports that the provision would violate existing U.S. trade agreements, Rep. Sarbanes argued that the legislation should be expanded to all countries with strong human rights records.
Committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA), however, responding to an objection by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), ruled the Sarbanes amendment out of order, paving the way for a Committee vote on the underlying provision as introduced. Despite extensive debate, including strong statements by Rep. Sarbanes, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Rep. Nikki Tsongas (D-MA) and John Duncan (R-TN), the Committee adopted the measure by a vote of 27 for and 15 against.
Joining Representative Sarbanes in voting against the measure were (in alphabetical order): Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Jeff Denham (R-CA), John Duncan (R-TN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Dale Kildee (D-MI), Raul Labrador (R-ID), Douglas Lamborn (R-CO), Edward Markey (D-MA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), David Rivera (R-FL), Betty Sue Sutton (D-OH), and Niki Tsongas (D-MA).
Voting in favor of the Turkey trade incentives bill were (in alphabetical order): Mark Amodei (R-NV), Daniel Benishek (R-MI), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Dan Boren (D-OK), Paul Broun (R-GA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), John Fleming (R-LA), William Flores (R-TX), John Garamendi (D-CA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Andy Harris (R-MD), Doc Hastings (R-WA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Jeffrey Landry (R-LA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Kristi Lynn Noem (R-SD), Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), Jon Runyan (R-NJ), Gregorio Sablan (I-CNMI), Steve Southerland (R-FL), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Robert Wittman (R-VA) and Don Young (R-AK).
“This amendment will open up the playing field fairly and benefit tribes by having more partners to work with,” said Pallone at the Natural Resources Committee Markup on the legislation. “The Republic of Turkey acts increasingly hostile to U.S. interest and has a long history of human rights violations. Turkey is not a country that should be receiving preferential treatment in any sense and certainly not explicitly approved by this Congress.”
In the days leading up to today’s vote, Armenian and Hellenic Americans from across the United States called on members of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee to vote against this legislation.
In a statement addressed to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings and Ranking Democrat Ed Markey (D-MA), ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian cited “serious moral and practical reservations, as well as the clear inequities and even potential violations of trade agreements” stemming from the adoption of this measure. She explained that “the U.S. Congress should not extend special economic benefits to a country that remains an unrepentant perpetrator of genocide against millions of its own indigenous minorities, including Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and others.”
Nahapetian went on to reference a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, which notes that H.R.2362 “could violate our obligations under NAFTA and the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).” The ANCA statement argued “It remains an open and unanswered question as to why Congress should give Turkey an advantage over other countries, such as Canada, that have not only shown a material interest, but have actually already entered into agreements with tribes.”
Similarly, American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association (AHEPA) Chairman Dr. John Grossomanides explained, “AHEPA wishes to raise areas of concern that shed light on
1. Turkish threats to U.S. commercial interests 2) Turkey’s mistreatment of minority communities, and 3) Turkish entities already in the United States. AHEPA strongly contends that these three areas of concern are quite germane to the legislation because
they demonstrate Turkish attitude toward U.S. commercial interests and behavior toward minority communities and reflect the existing track record of Turkish entities in the United States.”
The Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), PSEKA (International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus), Cyprus Federation of America, Pancyprian Association of America, and the American Hellenic Council also went on the record opposing the bill.