Colombian officials see little chance the U.S. Congress will approve
a free trade pact before the November 4 election but have high hopes
lawmakers will pass it by the end of year.
“Our main goal now is to have it considered in a ‘lame duck’
session,” Eduardo Muñoz, Colombia’s vice minister for foreign trade,
told reporters on Tuesday during a break in a major Colombian
government lobbying effort for the pact.
Both Republicans and Democrats have
told Colombian government officials it would be much easier to pass the
agreement, strongly opposed by U.S. labor groups, after the
presidential and congressional election, he said.
“We are very hopeful that in a lame
duck session the agreement will be brought to the floor. And we believe
that if it is brought to the floor, we would have enough votes to pass
it through Congress,” Muñoz said.
But Democratic leaders in Congress
say their plan is to finish up whatever work there is to do in the next
several weeks and not return until early 2009, when a newly elected
president and lawmakers will take office.
House of Representatives Speaker
Nancy Pelosi also has said she will not allow a vote on the Colombia
agreement until Congress and the White House have agreed on a second
economic stimulus package and on legislation to reform federal “trade
adjustment assistance” for workers who have lost their jobs because of
imports or factories moving overseas.
Colombian officials said Pelosi did not respond to a request sent to all members of Congress for a meeting to discuss the pact.
Earlier this year, Pelosi pushed
through a vote to indefinitely delay action on the agreement after
President George W. Bush ignored her advice and sent it the Congress.
A Senate Republican aide, speaking on condition she not be
identified, said it was clear Democrats did not want a vote on any of
the pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea
before the election.
“Even if there is a lame duck
session, it’s not apparent that the Democrats would permit action on
the Colombia trade agreement at that time,” the aide said.
Democratic presidential candidate
Barack Obama, reflecting concerns raised by U.S. labor groups, has said
Congress should not vote on the pact until Colombia makes more progress
in reducing violence against trade unionists.
Both Colombia and the Bush
administration complain that stance fails to recognize the significant
progress Colombia has already made under President Alvaro Uribe.
The delegation of around 80 Colombian
government officials, workers, student leaders, former paramilitaries
and members of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities are also
urging Congress to renew U.S. trade preferences that expire at the end
of the year.
“Our message is get the preference renewal as soon as possible” and pass the trade pact as well, Munoz said.
Colombia and other Andean nations now
receive duty-free access for almost all of their goods under a U.S.
preference program dating back to 1991.
The free trade pact would lock that
in place for Colombia. But even if it is passed by the end of the year,
Colombian exporters need trade preferences renewed for the period
between approval and implementation of the pact, Muñoz said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is
working to renew the Andean trade preferences by the end of the month,
a Baucus aide said. (Reuters)