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Peru sees progress in March in US free trade pact


Peru sees progress in March in U.S. free trade pact

22 March 2007

By Walker Simon

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peru’s foreign trade minister on Wednesday expressed confidence that progress will be made this month toward clinching U.S. congressional approval of a Peruvian-U.S. free trade pact.

"I think that now in March we will obtain something and the these coming days will be of great importance in this debate, in the search for consensus," said Mercedes Araoz, speaking at the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit in Lima, Peru.

The United States and Peru signed a free trade pact in 2006. But it is stuck in Congress, where Democrats want some wording on workers’ rights in trade pacts with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

Araoz’s comments reflected remarks made by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau in a Washington interview conducted for the Reuters Summit.

He said Wednesday the Bush administration hoped to reach a deal with U.S. lawmakers within 10 days to pave the way for approval of free trade pacts with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

Some Democrats want the agreements to include an enforceable commitment to abide by core international labor standards, such as the freedom to organize and bargain collectively and freedom from workplace discrimination.

Araoz said she favored addressing labor concerns in a "protocol annex" supplement to the accord itself, which she said ran to hundreds of pages and was negotiated between 2004 and 2006. She said she opposed a wholesale renegotiation of the accord.

"It would be a very bad international signal to search to (re-)open signed accords, renegotiate accords," she said, when asked about any such potential attempt by the U.S. Congress.

In the flush of the November Democratic victory in U.S. mid-term elections, some influential Democratic legislators said they wanted to renegotiate the three free trade accords.

However, the legislators are now in talks with the U.S. trade representative on how best to achieve the changes that would make it acceptable to the majority of Congress via possible mechanisms such as side letters or annexes.

Araoz said she thought dozens of congressmen, mainly Democrats, were still undecided whether to vote for the free trade pact on Peru.

The United States is Peru’s leading trade partner, taking about 23 percent of the Andean country’s exports last year.

"As far as I know, all the major business sectors in the United States are supporting us," she said. "The only pressure group with concerns is the AFL-CIO."

The AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, has opposed pending Latin American trade pacts, but last week directed unusually harsh criticism against Colombia, where it said violence has killed about 200 trade unionists since 2004.

"Colombia’s atrocious human right record sets it apart from Peru and Panama," an AFL-CIO statement said.

(Additional reporting by Maria Luisa Palomino)