The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Bush will make the announcement in the White House Rose Garden.Bush’s action will force Congress to take up the proposal under a fast-track process that will require votes within 90 days. Officials said Bush is acting now in order to force a vote before Congress leaves in the fall for the campaign season.The agreement would tear down trade barriers between the two nations but is heavily opposed by Democrats in Congress who contend that Colombia has not done enough to halt violence, protect labor activists and demobolize paramilitary organizations.Bush, who has staked out free trade as one of his top legacies, is also hoping to win congressional approval before he leaves office on pending free trade agreements with Panama and South Korea.Bush’s action was coming one day after Mark Penn quit as Sen. Hillary Clinton’s chief campaign strategist after it was reported that he had met with Colombia’s ambassador to the United States to discuss proposion of the free trade agreement which Clinton opposes.The administration a year ago struck an agreement with Democratic leaders who wanted future free trade agreements to include protections regarding workers’ rights and the environment. The deal was intended to smooth passage of future trade agreements through a Congress now in the hands of Democrats.However, the pact with Colombia had drawn heavy opposition because of such issues as violence against union organizers. Moreover, Democratic leaders balked at forcing the matter to a vote.”We’ve tried to work with members of Congress very diligently over the past 16 months or so since we concluded the Colombia agreement,” White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Monday. “We have had literally hundreds of meetings and contacts with members of Congress. A lot of members of Congress have traveled to Colombia on trips that we’ve sponsored.”In economic terms, the deal would largely open up the Colombian markets for American goods without many of the duties that now exist. Colombia is already able to send most products to the United States duty-free, but the deal would strengthen that preferential access, a boon to the country and to its investors.Bush has acknowledged that the slumping U.S. economy has eroded support for trade. Many blue-collar workers blame it for costing them their jobs. The president has said the answer is trade assistance and education, not isolation.The president also has said that failing to approve a free-trade deal with Colombia would have the effect of encouraging Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez’s anti-American regime and casting the United States as untrustworthy and impotent across South America.
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