A top senator said he expects Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia soon, despite continued strong opposition from the largest U.S. labor group, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said, during a hearing on the Colombia agreement, “We are now poised to approve our FTAs [free trade agreements] with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.”
However Jeff Vogt of the AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest labor union federation, which previously said it was “deeply disappointed” with a deal to move forward on the trade pact in April, said the federation would continue to vigorously oppose the agreement.
Vogt said “We feel, given the horrific history in Colombia, it is essential to see a period of time by which we can verify … that the murder rate is actually, really going down … That is going to take time.”
In contrast, Democrat Baucus praised an action plan addressing concerns about the murder of trade union members and other anti-labor violence which was negotiated by President Barack Obama’s administration and Colombia.
Baucus said that he expected the Obama administration to formally present the agreement to Congress once Colombia has fulfilled a second set of actions laid out in the plan by June 15.
The senator also said that the submitting of the agreement is subject to the renewal of an assistance program designed to help U.S. workers who have lost their jobs because of competition from China and India. He said “We’re not going to get one without the other.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Democrat John Kerry said “The time has come to ratify this treaty,” adding that the action plan helped ease concerns about the free trade agreement.
U.S. farm and business groups, eager to increase sales in the Latin American market, say that Colombia has made impressive progress and it is time to pass the agreement which was signed by the two countries in 2006.