WASHINGTON – The White House said Wednesday that it had struck a deal to advance a long-stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia, but it was uncertain whether it will pass muster with critics of the country’s labor record.
Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, called for swift passage, saying trade with the country would boost the U.S. economy.
President Barack Obama will meet today at the White House with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to talk about a labor rights “action plan” aimed at addressing congressional concerns over the deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the plan – hammered out over the last three weeks – included a number of steps that the Colombian government had agreed to take, including expanding protection for labor leaders and union organizers and bolstering efforts to strengthen labor laws and enforcement. Those have been sticking points for Democrats, who want greater union protection in the agreement, which was reached in 2007 but requires a vote of Congress to ratify.
“The president made it clear that as much as we believed in the economic imperative and opportunity, we thought it was also important that we demonstrate to the American public our resolve to have free trade agreements that reflect our values as it relates to how workers should be treated,” Kirk said.