Colombia’s trade minister will press the Obama administration and
lawmakers this week to lay out a path toward congressional approval of
a trade deal signed more than two years ago, a Colombian aide said on
President Barack Obama, who strongly opposed the agreement during last
year’s presidential campaign, recently asked U.S. Trade Representative
Ron Kirk to work with Colombia and Congress to resolve violence and
human rights concerns that have blocked approval of the free-trade pact.
Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata on Friday will meet with
Kirk, who faces a tough challenge in persuading Democrats —
particularly in the House of Representative — to support a trade deal
negotiated by former President George W. Bush and opposed by U.S. labor
“We basically are open to listening to Mr. Kirk and how
he envisions this process,” said Sandra Ocampo, press secretary at
Colombia’s embassy in Washington. “What we expect is a … path forward
to continue working.”
Kirk met with Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe and Plata this month at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.
But this is the first chance for the two trade officials to dig into
how to resolve the political and human rights challenges blocking
approval of the deal.
Colombia, which says it already has done
a lot to reduce killings of trade unionists and start prosecuting their
murderers, has long pressed Democrats opposed to the deal to specify
what more they want Colombia to do.
Plata will meet with House
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and Ways and Means
Committee Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin on Thursday.
Levin, one of Congress’ most forceful advocates of using trade to prod
other countries toward U.S.-set social goals, was recently in Colombia
and Panama on a fact-finding mission.
On the Republican side,
Plata will meet later on Wednesday with Representative Kevin Brady, a
senior member of the Ways and Means panel who has pressed Democrats for
faster action on the Colombia and Panama deals.
Plata also was
set to meet with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, White House
National Security Council Director for the Western Hemisphere Dan
Restrepo and Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western
Hemisphere Nancy Lee.
The U.S. International Trade Commission
estimated in December 2006 that approval of the deal would boost U.S.
exports to Colombia by about $1.1 billion annually and increase U.S
imports from that country by about $487 million. (Reuters)