President Barack Obama should signal his support for open trade at the
Summit of the Americas meeting in April by laying out a plan for
Congress to approve a free trade pact with Colombia, the head of the
Inter-American Development Bank said on Monday.
“It would be a great thing to come to that meeting with that issue
resolved, or at least a path towards how to resolve it,” Luis Alberto
Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, said in an
interview with press agency Reuters.
The United States and Colombia signed a free trade
deal in November 2006, but U.S. Democratic Party concerns about a long
history of unsolved murders of trade unionists in Colombia has blocked
approval of the agreement.
Moreno was Colombia’s ambassador to
the United States when the two countries began talks on the free trade
pact in May 2004. He has headed the IADB since July 2005.
Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Jaime Bermudez, Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos and other
Colombian officials will be in Washington this week to lobby the Obama
administration and Congress for the trade deal as well as continued
U.S. military aid.
The agreement is also expected to be on the
minds of many regional leaders when Obama travels to Trinidad in April
for the Summit of the Americas meeting.
President George W.
Bush’s administration bowed to pressure from congressional Democrats
and renegotiated the Colombian trade agreement in mid-2007 to include
stronger labor and environmental provisions.
But Obama and many
other Democrats continued to oppose the pact on the grounds that
Colombia had not done enough to reduce violence against labor leaders
or to solve thousands of murders of trade unionists over the past two
Colombian officials say they have made great progress
in reducing all types of violence since President Alvaro Uribe took
office in 2002 and have also been one of the United States’ strongest
allies in the region.
“I think everybody understands the
complexity of what’s going on politically in the U.S. in dealing with
this challenge. But it’s also very important for the U.S. to show that
you can have an agreement and comply with them and move forward,”
U.S. approval of the trade deal with Colombia, and
a second one with Panama, would send a positive message to the region
at a time when the world economic crisis has created a “huge fear” that
countries will turn protectionist, Moreno said.
Obama is “not
perceived as a free trader” in Latin America because of statements he
made during last year’s campaign, Moreno said. But “I think President
Obama has demonstrated he’s a very pragmatic man. … He understands
that trade is a very important part of the world economy,” Moreno said. (Reuters)