The Obama administration sees “a window of opportunity” to work with the Colombian government to address concerns about anti-union violence that have blocked approval of a bilateral free trade deal for more than four years, U.S. officials said.
“We believe the Colombian Government wants to identify solutions to these issues, and that we have a window of opportunity now to work jointly to address them by securing important improvements,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said in prepared testimony to the House of Representatives Ways and Means trade subcommittee.
“The Obama Administration shares the sense of urgency we have heard from many members of Congress to advance the Colombia FTA,” Sapiro said.
Republicans have been pressing the White House to send trade agreements with Colombia and Panama to Congress for a vote, along with a bigger trade deal with South Korea that the administration already plans to submit.
In recent weeks, administration officials have said they are committed to winning approval of all three agreements but have frustrated Republicans, who control the House, and some senior Democrats by refusing to set out a firm timeline for action on the Latin American pacts.
House Republicans have said they want to consider all three agreements by July 1.
“The Administration’s foot-dragging on these agreements—its shabby treatment of these two important friends and trading partners—is noticed by all our neighbors,” said Republican Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the trade subcommittee, in a prepared opening statement.
He urged the administration to identify specifically what further steps it wants Colombia and Panama to take, “an action plan for achieving that goal, and a timetable for completing it promptly.”
The 12.2-million-member AFL-CIO labor federation strongly opposes the Colombia agreement on the grounds that the country has not done enough to stop killings of union members and to prosecute those responsible.
Supporters of the agreement say Colombia has made important progress on that and other issues in bringing its country back from the brink of collapse in the 1990s as it battled a leftist insurgency and drug cartels. (Reuters)