US Senator: FTA with Colombia by June

During a visit to Colombia on Thursday, U.S. Senator George LeMieux declared himself a firm defender of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) and expressed optimism that the pact will be signed by June this year.

“We are optimistic and there are good signs that this agreement will be ratified during the spring,” said Republican politician LeMieux.

The Florida senator said that there is consensus in the U.S. Republican Party that FTAs with Colombia, Panama and South Korean are a priority

“There is concern among some of my colleagues that these agreements will have a negative impact on employment in the United States. However I think that importation and exportation are great generators of work and that’s why our intention is to support them,” LeMieux said.

The senator also commented that the $55.5 million cut to aid to Colombia in U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget is the result of economic hardship in the North American country, rather than of any change in U.S. policy towards the Andean nation.

Colombia is Washington’s closest ally in South America and has received more than $5 billion in mostly military aid since 2000 to help fight leftist rebels and cocaine traffickers.

Yet negotiations over the FTA with Colombia, signed in 2006, have been blocked by U.S. congressmen who complain that President Alvaro Uribe’s conservative government has not done enough to stop violence against unionists and human rights activists.

Critics also say Uribe has not focused on stopping former militia fighters from organizing new gangs that murder those who challenge their control over local communities.

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