Presidential aids verified that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Thursday to discuss the imminent bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), confirming reports from anonymous sources, Spanish agency EFE reported Wednesday.
Sources indicated that the path to ratification has been cleared, as Colombia has agreed to reform its labor laws and crack down on violence against trade unionists. Concerns about labor rights in Colombia, coming from representatives from the Democratic Party, have until this point served as an obstacle to Obama presenting the FTA before Congress.
U.S. Foreign Trade representative Ron Kirk said, “We anticipate that the two leaders will approve the action plan” that was agreed upon. The plan commits Bogota to a series of deadlines for the implementation of measures to deal with Washington’s reservations about the treaty, which was signed in 2006 and has been awaiting US ratification ever since.
The Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman said, “Once the measures have been put into place the treaty can be submitted to congress for ratification.” However both Froman and Kirk stress that there is no set date for ratification.
In regards to the labor plan, the Colombian government must by April 22 widen its protection of trade union activists, workers who want to join a union, and former trade unionists who are threatened because of their past actions.
By June 15, Colombia promises to reform the Criminal Code, which will criminalize actions that could affect the fundamental rights of workers.
Lastly, by the end of 2011, Colombian police must also name 95 investigators by the end of 2011, who will be responsible for investigating crimes committed against trade unionists.
The presidential representatives also elaborated on the details of the trade agreement. Kirk said that the trade agreement will allow the duty-free importation of 80% of consumer and industrial goods exported from the U.S. to Colombia, and the taxes on the remaining 20% will be eliminated over 10 years. Roughly 50% of agricultural exports will be free of taxes, with the taxes on the other half eliminated over the next 15 years.
According to the Latin America Director of the National Security Council of the White House, Dan Restrepo, the initiative highlights “an ever deepening relationship with one of the best allies in the western hemisphere.”
Obama believes that free trade agreement is the cornerstone to fulfilling a promise to double U.S. exports over the next five years.