Bush, Uribe Discuss Details of Trade Pact
By DEB RIECHMANN , 06.14.2006
President Bush reassured Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday that the United States would work quickly to sort out remaining details of a free trade pact signed in February.
"I will submit the agreement to Congress once it gets done, and I would hope members of both political parties understand the importance of a free trade agreement with this vital ally of ours," Bush told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Uribe.
Bush said the leaders also spoke about how Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru agreed on Tuesday to chart new trade plans with Washington but in the absence of Venezuela, a major U.S. critic. The Andean leaders signed an accord pledging to respect the rights of their nations to negotiate free trade agreements with the United States.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, a foe of U.S.-backed trade liberalization, announced in April that he was abandoning the Andean bloc, saying it had been "fatally wounded" when Colombia and Peru signed trade deals with the Bush administration.
Bush did not publicly address the U.S. decision to break off negotiations on a free trade agreement with Ecuador.
The decision followed Ecuador’s decision to annul an operating contract with Occidental Petroleum Corp.. The U.S. trade representative said that constituted a seizure of assets from an American company. The government of Ecuador claimed the oil company had broken the terms of its contract.
Bush said he and Uribe also discussed democracy, human rights and drug trafficking.
House Democrats wonder whether the United States, which is spending billions of dollars on drug-eradication programs in Colombia, would be wise to spend more money to reduce demand for illegal drugs.
Five Democrats also said in their statement that Colombia has a long way to go toward achieving workers’ rights. They want Uribe, during his second term, to invest more money in roads, electricity, alternative development, schools, courts and health clinics.
Uribe acknowledged that Colombia needs to show better results in speeding up the eradication of drugs.
"One challenge is that Colombia can overcome this long nightmare of terrorism," Uribe said. "I understand the mandate my fellow country citizens have given me to work harder and with better results for my country to get peace. And the United States’ cooperation is necessary."
Bush said he needs to do a better job communicating to the people in the Americas about how the U.S. wants to promote justice, education and health. "I want the people to understand that money is meant to help them, to help improve their lives," he said.