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Bush administration, industry meet as Panama, Peru trade deals delayed

AFX News Limited

Bush administration, industry meet as Panama, Peru trade deals delayed

10 July 2007

WASHINGTON (Thomson Financial) - Senior members of the Bush administration and several US industry representatives were meeting today in Washington in order to devise a plan under which stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with Panama and Peru might be quickly approved by Congress.

The meeting was hastily convened just days after Rep. Sander Levin, who controls the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said Panama and Peru must fully implement the terms of their FTAs with the US before the US Congress considers each agreement.

Levin told his Democratic colleagues in a July 6 email that delaying a US vote on the FTAs is warranted because the US has previously waited for its trading partners to approve agreements before the US acted. Levin said this was the case with Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

But the administration and industry groups argue that this is a radical change from a May agreement with Congress under which the FTAs should have been considered for a vote this month. One industry representative said the Peru FTA was already scheduled for a July vote, but now this has been pulled from the legislative calendar.

In a July 9 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler said the decision to delay the vote on the two FTAs goes against a bipartisan agreement to approve the FTAs quickly. Under that agreement, the administration and US companies agreed to tougher labor and environmental provisions in the FTAs, in return for Democratic support for these agreements.

’I am extremely disappointed to see that, despite the support that the NAM and others in the business community have put forth, that additional roadblocks are being placed in front of specific agreements,’ Engler wrote. ’It is essential that you stick to your original bargain and that we have a July vote on the Peru FTA, and a Panama vote as soon as possible.’

Engler also said Congress should approve FTAs with Colombia and Korea, although Democrats have said for the last few months that more labor improvements would be needed in Colombia, and increased access in Korea for US automobiles would be required.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab urged Pelosi in a July 6 letter to allow the FTAs to move as quickly as possible this year.

’The Administration looks forward to working with you to make the vision of the May 10 agreement a reality, and rebuilding bipartisan support for opening markets around the world,’ Schwab told Pelosi.