ABC News | 25 June 2007
USTR, Congress settle on changes to trade deals
The Bush administration and U.S. lawmakers have agreed on a blueprint to strengthen labor and environmental protections in four pending free trade deals, trade officials said on Monday.
The Bush administration is hoping the new provisions will bolster chances Congress will endorse bilateral agreements with South Korea, Peru, Colombia and Panama this year.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab began drafting a new slate of enforceable rules last month with leaders of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. The four trading partners must also sign off on the proposed changes before the deals move toward a vote in Congress.
"Now that this important work is done, we can move forward on implementing our pending free trade agreements," said Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana, the Ways and Means Committee’s ranking Republican.
So far, only the government of Peruvian President Alan Garcia has accepted the new rules, Schwab said.
"The Peru agreement offers an important opportunity to expand economic opportunities for U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers and to encourage the economic reforms in Peru that are helping to alleviate poverty" in Peru, Schwab said in a statement.
Discussions continue with the other three countries on the labor and environmental modifications.
"I now look forward to congressional action on the Peru agreement in July, and the agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea as soon as possible," Schwab said.
South Korea’s Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong is meeting with Schwab in Washington on Monday afternoon.
The South Korean trade deal is by far the largest of the set, but the U.S. auto industry and several other sectors have already lined up against it.
The agreement with Colombia, though, could face even more serious challenges in Congress as lawmakers complain about the South American nation’s record on violence against unionists.
Senior Colombian officials said last month they would have no problem accepting additional rules on labor and the environment.
In Peru, lawmakers said they plan to debate the proposed changes to the trade deal on Wednesday.
Peruvian Trade Minister Mercedes Araoz told reporters in Lima the rules call for greater enforcement of Peru’s labor laws and also for new legislation to combat such problems as illegal logging and forced labor.
She said they also require Peru to loosen regulations on patents.
(Additional reporting by Teresa Cespedes in Lima)