Obama lauds free trade agreement with Colombia

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2011 6:41 PM
Obama lauds free trade agreement with Colombia

President Barack Obama praised Thursday a newly finalized free trade agreement with Colombia as good for the U.S. economy and American workers.

During an Oval Office meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Obama said the pact would boost U.S. exports to Colombia by $1 billion per year and support thousands of American jobs.

The Obama administration announced a breakthrough on the long-stalled trade deal Wednesday after the Colombian government agreed to take additional steps to protect workers' rights, including the right to organize. Labor rights had been a key concern for U.S. officials given the high rate of violence against union members in Colombia.

Obama praised Santos for his commitment to tackling the issue of labor rights.

"He emphasized to me how important this is to him personally and the fact that Colombia sees a vision for its country in which all workers are treated fairly," Obama said.

Obama said he looked forward to visiting Colombia next year to attend an international summit.

Under an action plan the two countries agreed to, Colombia would phase in a series of steps to increase protections for unions and workers, and boost the prosecution of those who violate workers' rights. According the agreement, the first phase of that plan must be completed by April 22.

Santos told reporters at a news conference at the Colombian Embassy that Obama pledged to send a formal notification of the trade pact to Congress by April 22 so lawmakers can begin their review. Congress must approve the pact before it can be implemented.

Republican lawmakers have been pushing the administration to send them a completed trade pact with Colombia, as well as agreements with South Korea and Panama, by July 1. The U.S. finalized a trade agreement with South Korea in December, and is in ongoing negotiations with Panama.

GOP lawmakers have threatened to block final passage of any of the trade agreements if the administration does not send them all three.