President George W. Bush pressed Congress on Thursday to approve a free
trade pact with Colombia, one day after Republican presidential
candidate John McCain went after his Democratic opponent Barack Obama for opposing the agreement.
“Congress is coming back to Washington next month. One of the top
priorities should be to approve this vital agreement with Colombia as
well as (other trade pacts) with Panama and South Korea,” Bush said at
a ceremony to sign a bill to renew expiring trade benefits for Andean
His words reinforced McCain’s attempt during the final presidential
debate on Wednesday night to portray Obama as hostile to free trade.
McCain argued the pact would bolster ties with an important regional
ally “helping us try to stop the flow of drugs into our country that’s
killing young Americans,” while leveling the playing field for U.S.
“Free trade with Colombia is something that’s a no-brainer. But
maybe you ought to travel down there and visit them and maybe you could
understand it a lot better,” McCain said.
“Actually, I understand it pretty well,” Obama shot back. “The
history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted
for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been
Obama insisted he supported free trade.
“But I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the
course of the Bush administration with the support of Sen. McCain, the
attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement,”
The United States and Colombia signed the free trade pact shortly
after the November 2006 election in which Democrats won control of the
U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Since then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has
refused to take up the agreement, leading to a showdown with Bush
earlier this year.
Pelosi first cited concerns about a long history of murder and other
violence against trade unionists in Colombia as the main reason
Democrats wanted to delay the pact.
After Bush tried in April to force a vote, Pelosi said Congress
needed to pass a second economic stimulus package and legislation to
expand the federal “trade adjustment assistance” program before she
would allow action.
Some business lobbyists still see a long-shot chance Congress will
approve the Colombia pact this year, but their labor group opponents
say that is far-fetched. (Reuters)