The United States/Peru free trade agreement on Tuesday cleared Congress and was ready for President George W. Bush signature, a victory for the US and Peruvian embattled leaders.
The Senate approved the free trade pact on an overwhelming 77-18 vote after lengthy debate since Monday, capping nearly two years of effort by Bush's Republican administration. While the victory was all but certain, the fate of pending US free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea remained problematic. "I commend the Senate for approving the free trade agreement with Peru with strong bipartisan support" President Bush said in a statement. "This agreement will level the playing field for US exporters and investors and will expand an important market in this hemisphere for US goods and services, which will help strengthen economic growth and job creation in the United States." The free trade agreement (FTA) was modified under pressure from the Democratic-controlled Congress in May to take into account environmental and human rights concerns. The House of Representatives approved the FTA on November 8 on a 285-132 vote. To date, the pact with Peru is the only one of the pending FTAs the White House has submitted to Congress for approval. The remaining three FTAs face a tougher fight in the legislature. "I look forward to signing this legislation into law and urge Congress to promptly consider and approve our other pending free trade agreements, starting with Colombia, which would be important to the stability of the region, and including Panama and South Korea," Bush said. Bilateral trade between the United States and Peru amounted to 8.8 billion dollars in 2006, according to US government data. Nearly all products from Peru already have duty-free access to the United States. The new deal will allow US reciprocal access to the growing Peruvian market. The president of Peru, Alan Garcia, hailed the US Senate's passage of the pact. "The approval of the FTA with the United States is good news for the increase of jobs and wages that should boost foreign investment in the country," Garcia said at the presidential palace in Lima, surrounded by members of his cabinet. Susan Schwab, the US trade representative, also applauded the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on trade. "With the strong votes by both Chambers of Congress, we are sending a strong signal to the world that the United States is regaining its bipartisan footing on trade policy and is a reliable ally to countries that are building political and economic freedom," Schwab said. But not everybody was happy: US labor groups and some members of Congress remained fiercely opposed to the deal. "It is outrageous that Congress and the Bush administration have approved yet another job-killing trade agreement at a time when American families are seeing their jobs shipped overseas, their food and toys tainted, their wages decline and their houses foreclosed upon," said Jim Hoffa, president of the large Teamsters union