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White House lobbying Congress to approve free trade accords

Wednesday, February 14th 2007 - 20:00 UTC
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United States chief trade official Susan Schwab said the Bush administration is very anxious to see Congress vote for the free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama which have been stalled by Democrats' concerns over labor provisions.

"In the next few months, I expect Congress to take up the free trade agreement we concluded with Peru last year" said U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab in an address to the National Press Club in Washington Many Democrats want the agreement with Peru changed to include an enforceable commitment to abide by core international labor standards â€" such as the freedom to organize and bargain collectively and prohibitions against workplace discrimination. They have made similar demands for a free trade pact with Colombia the Bush administration signed last year and a third pact with Panama, which is complete except for the labor chapter. Schwab said the Bush administration was having quiet talks with congressional Democrats and Republican in the hopes of resolving the labor issues and other differences over environmental provisions of the trade pacts. "Those talks are going on and my hope is at some point we'll be able to bridge the gap," Schwab said. The three trade deals "are high priorities for us, not just for commercial reasons but also for geopolitical reasons," Schwab said. Colombia and Panama are neighbors of Venezuela' Hugo Chavez. Peru's trade agreement was signed in April 2006 and Colombia's six months later. Colombian vice president Francisco Santos and Panama president Martin Torrijos are expected this week in Washington to lobby before Congress for the accords. Peruvian negotiators are currently in the US and are expected to remain until March 19, according to Lima diplomatic sources. The Peruvian government has anticipated it is willing to attach documents on the pending issues but under no circumstances will it begin a new negotiation. "Discussions are ongoing and I hope that at some point we can overcome discrepancies", said Schwab. All interested parties are pressing for the agreements since next June 30 the "fast track" special power extended by Congress to the White House expires. Fast track forces Congress to accept or reject the whole package, with no amendments introduced or erased

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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