US still wants trade deal, amid pending war in Latin America

Today, as government officials in Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela try to broker a deal to end the violence between the FARC and the Colombian Government, the US still wants to play free market politics.


U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told Congress on Thursday "the time is now" to approve a free trade agreement with Colombia, rather than wait for that country to make more progress in reducing violence against trade unionists.

Schwab's comments came days after Colombia set off a major diplomatic crisis in the Andes when its troops crossed into Ecuador to kill Marxist guerrillas, prompting Venezuela and Ecuador to move their troops to their borders with Colombia.

U.S. President George W. Bush has supported Colombia, which gets billions of dollars in military aid from Washington to fight rebels and drug cartels.

"This administration will not yield in our efforts to persuade Congress to do the the right thing -- and approving the Colombia FTA is most assuredly the right thing," Schwab said in testimony prepared for the Senate Finance Committee.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have insisted that Colombia make more progress in reducing murders of trade unionists and putting their killers in jail before Congress votes on the free trade deal.

Schwab said that stance ignores the "clear and compelling" progress Colombia has already made and threatens relations with a strong U.S. ally in a volatile region.

Colombia's murder rate is now at the lowest level in more than a decade and the prosecutor general's office already has stepped up efforts to resolve 187 priority cases of violence against trade unionists, she said.

"The time is now" to approve the pact, Schwab told the panel. "By delaying its consideration, or voting it down, we accomplish nothing. Or worse."

The Colombia deal is the first of three free trade agreements that the Bush administration is struggling to persuade Congress to approve this year. The others are with South Korea and Panama, and each faces its own problems.


In a tense exchange with Schwab, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said there was little hope for the pacts unless Congress and the Bush administration agree first on a bill to expand federal the trade adjustment assistance program (TAA), which provides financial aid for workers who have lost their jobs because of trade.

"Mr. Chairman, we all have priorities here and I think that it's in everyone's interest for a win-win (deal) that would include movement on trade adjustment assistance and the free trade agreements," Schwab said.

"I'm just saying TAA is number one," Baucus said. "I don't think we're going to make much progress on the free trade agreements until we get TAA done."

Although Bush has said he wants to work with Congress to revamp the trade adjustment assistance program, he has threatened to veto a bill passed by the House.

Democrats want to expand the program to include service industry workers, in addition to those in manufacturing sectors. They also want to include workers whose jobs have been moved to India, China and other countries not currently covered by the program, as well as other reforms.

The Colombia agreement is protected by trade promotion authority, which requires Congress to approve or reject trade agreements within 90 days without making changes.

The White House has hoped to persuade Democratic leaders to voluntarily schedule a vote, without forcing them to do that under trade promotion authority.

That's still the preferred option, Schwab told reporters in in response to a published report that Bush could send the Colombia agreement to Congress next week.

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At Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:37:00 AM, Blogger yogenaro said...

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At Thursday, March 13, 2008 11:49:00 AM, Blogger yogenaro said...

at the same time the Colombian Army. has a reward system which is encouraging the rebels to kill their colleagues and to come in the military barracks with pieces of the slaughtered victims like chopped hands as prob of their acts, in order to claim millionaire rewards. many Colombians find this as strategies of dirty war therefore inmoral


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