Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss trade this week with
Colombia and other nations of the Western Hemisphere, U.S. officials said on Monday,
and expressed hope that support for free trade would continue under a
more skeptical President Barack Obama.
Rice travels to Panamá City on Tuesday for the gathering of foreign
and commerce ministers from 11 other countries that have negotiated
free-trade deals with the United States.
Lowering trade barriers to trade has been a signature policy of the
Bush administration, but is often blamed by critics for job losses at
home. With Washington focused on the troubled U.S. economy, it is
unclear what role trade deals will play in the future.
Obama, who takes office January 20, opposes the free-trade pact the
U.S. negotiated with Colombia that still must be approved by Congress
before going into force. His attitude toward a similar deal with Panama
Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
affairs, told reporters the network of U.S. trading partners stretching
from Canada to Chile would provide a “powerful tool” for Obama, and
“lay the groundwork for a much larger Asian-American free-trade area.”
Wednesday’s one-day meeting in Panama City will be attended by
ministers from Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic,
El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and the United
States. It will be hosted by Panamanian President Martin Torrijos.
Two countries that do not have free-trade agreements with Washington
— Uruguay and Brazil — have also been invited, Shannon said.