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Democrats urge USTR renegotiate Andean trade pacts


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Democrats urge USTR renegotiate Andean trade pacts

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — A group of Democrats urged the Bush administration on Tuesday to renegotiate trade pacts with Peru and Colombia to strengthen their worker protections.

The request came in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab one day before the United States was set to sign the trade deal with Colombia.

The U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement was signed earlier this year but is still pending in Congress.

The letter heralds a tough fight over the Peru trade deal, if the White House tries to win its approval in the current Republican-controlled Congress by the end of the year.

That is still possible, but it appears increasingly likely the issue will slide into 2007, when Democrats will be in charge after winning congressional elections this month.

The letter was signed by Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat who will become chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee in January.

Several other Democrats on the Ways and Means panel and the Senate Finance Committee, which share jurisdiction over trade legislation, also signed their names.

"We are dismayed that the administration has consistently declined to take the simple steps necessary to address our key outstanding concern (about the Peru agreement), which continues to be labor standards," the Democrats said.

"Our concerns apply to the Colombia agreement as well," they added. "Signing the agreement this week ... would send the wrong message about your willingness to work with us to address our concerns."

While the labor provisions are binding on both sides, the Democrats’ main concern is raising labor standards in the Andean countries.

Most Democrats voted against a free trade pact with Central America countries last year on the grounds its protections for workers weren’t strong enough, and they nearly defeated it.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not rule out the possibility of reopening the pacts.

"We look forward to discussing these issues with Congress," USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said in an e-mail.