A senior U.S. trade official expressed confidence Wednesday that Congress will approve pending free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama, though he couldn’t predict when.
Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said he believes there is a lot of support in Congress for the deals that were held over from the administration of former President George W. Bush.
“There are still some issues that cause great concern, particularly to members of Congress,” Sanchez said during a panel discussion at an event hosted by the Inter-American Dialogue. “I’m very confident–as is the president–that we’ll get through them.”
The remaining concerns about the Colombia deal are mainly “visceral,” said Sanchez, urging Americans to recognize significant improvements in tackling violence against labor organizers in the country.
The State Department and U.S. Trade Representative’s office are working with the Colombian governments to establish a means to measure the progress in reducing violence, he said.
Panama will likely have to enact legislation before that deal is ready, which Sanchez said doesn’t appear to be a problem.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said last month that legislative changes involving labor and justice measures in Panama had already been addressed, with the U.S. Treasury working with Panama’s government to resolve remaining tax issues.
Business groups have been frustrated that President Barack Obama has set a goal of reaching a deal on the South Korea trade pact by his trip to Seoul in November, while not laying out a similar timetable on the other two agreements.
Sanchez said that although he can’t provide a time frame on the Colombia and Panama deals, “I think it does bode well that there is movement on the free trade agreements.” (Tom Barkley / Dow Jones Newswires)