Senators prod Obama to move Panama, Colombia deals

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:19 PM
Senators prod Obama to move Panama, Colombia deals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A pair of senior senators on Thursday urged President Barack Obama's administration to "immediately begin technical discussions" on legislation to enact two long-delayed trade pacts with Colombia and Panama.

"We believe that beginning this process will help remove doubt from our trading partners that Congress and the administration are committed to moving these agreements expeditiously," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

Both pacts, along with a third agreement with South Korea, have been delayed for a number of years mainly because of opposition from U.S. labor groups.

Obama plans to submit the South Korea agreement soon to Congress, following recent changes to the pact's auto provisions to reduce domestic opposition.

Baucus and Hatch want Obama to also submit the Colombia and Panama agreements and are concerned those deals could fall by the wayside if they are not considered with the Korea pact.

The senators said beginning technical discussions on the legislation to implement the Colombia and Panama agreements would empower U.S. trade officials to resolve "outstanding issues as soon as possible."

In the case of Colombia, that means addressing U.S. labor union concerns about killings of Colombia union members and prosecuting those responsible for the crimes.

The United States is pressing Panama to make further reforms to its labor and tax haven laws.

Baucus and Hatch said they were relieved to learn the Obama administration is "not seeking any modifications to the trade agreements themselves."

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by John Whitesides)