(April 11, 1:52 p.m.) Fresh produce and agricultural lobbyists expressed dismay at a move by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remove the 90-day timetable for consideration of the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.

Despite warnings from Pelosi, D-Calif., that sending the agreement to Congress would be a mistake, Bush forwarded it on April 8. He had sought to spur action within 90 days on the agreement, negotiated in 2006.

“It’s very unfortunate, and it flies in the face of farm bill efforts to increase trade and increase demand for U.S. agriculture,” said Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association.

“To not allow apples the access they just approved for our competition is outrageous,” she said, alluding to duty-free access for 90% of Colombia’s exports to the U.S. under the Andean Trade Preference Act.

Foster said enactment of the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement would immediately remove the 15% tariffs on U.S. apples.

Nearly one-fourth of all U.S. apples were sold overseas in 2007.

However, Pelosi, citing labor rights in Colombia and the agreement’s effect on American jobs, was successful in eliminating the 90-day deadline for action on the trade agreement.

“Today’s action by Speaker Pelosi is bad for America’s economy and, most of all, bad for American farmers,” Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said April 10.

In a teleconference earlier in the week, Schafer said the White House has repeatedly tried to work with Congress to overcome objections.

“Congress has not held a single hearing. Sending this legislation to Congress is a move to make progress on this important agreement,” he said April 8.

The top official of the American Farm Bureau Federation lamented the delay.

“This decision will not only place a vote on the agreement in limbo, but it is a direct strike at the United States’ most important trade negotiating tool, trade promotion authority,” Bob Stallman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement released after Pelosi’s decision.

The Farm Bureau projects growth in U.S. agricultural exports of $900 million per year as a result of the agreement.

Stallman said Congress should not be let off the hook from taking an up or down vote on the agreement this year.