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Colombia is said to reach labor deal with US to advance trade agreement

Bloomberg | April 6 2011

Colombia is said to reach labor deal with US to advance trade agreement

By Mark Drajem and Kate Andersen Brower

Colombia, US said to announce labor deal soon

Colombia and the U.S. may announce a deal as soon as today on measures clearing the way for a stalled free-trade agreement, according to six people familiar with the talks.

Negotiators have spent more than a month in discussions as U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the Obama administration wants Colombia to strengthen labor rules and offer better protections for union organizers before the trade pact could be sent to Congress.

The two nations have had “very productive” talks, and many of the improvements sought by the U.S. are steps that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos wants to make on his own, Kirk said yesterday.

“We feel like we are pushing on an open door when it comes to Colombia,” Kirk said at a hearing of a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Kirk declined to say if an announcement would be made today.

Santos is in the U.S. this week for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York. An announcement might be delayed until tomorrow to accommodate the schedules of Santos and President Barack Obama, according to three of the people who declined to be identified before the announcement.

Adriana Vargas, a spokeswoman traveling with Santos, said the Colombian delegation may extend its U.S. stay by a day for a “high-level meeting” in New York or Washington. She didn’t provide more details, and the Colombia Trade Ministry didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Democratic U.S. lawmakers such as Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and labor unions have said protections for workers in Colombia fail to meet accepted standards.

$1.1 Billion

The agreement would boost U.S. shipments to Colombia by $1.1 billion a year from $12 billion in 2010, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. For Colombia the deal would lock in unilateral trade privileges that are subject to renewal by Congress, providing greater certainty to investors. Those preferences lapsed in February, dealing a blow to Colombian textile makers and flower growers.

The U.S. and Colombia, which exchanged about $27.7 billion in trade last year, agreed to modifications of the labor and environment provisions of an original agreement after demands from Democratic lawmakers in 2007. Republican President George W. Bush tried a year later to force the Democratic-controlled Congress to vote for the deal. They used a procedural maneuver to avoid a vote.

The administration has been pressed by Republicans to move ahead with the Colombia agreement. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he would hold up confirmation of a new Commerce secretary if a Colombia accord isn’t submitted to Congress.

 source: Bloomberg