US Congress set to OK Colombia and Panama trade deals?

US president Barack Obama and congressional leaders “are within striking distance of a deal” to ratify free trade agreements (FTAs, or TLCs in Spanish) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue said at a news conference in Washington, DC, on June 15. Donohue said the Chamber is “optimistic” that the trade agreements can be approved by July 1.

The agreements were negotiated and signed under the administration of former president George W. Bush (2001-2009), but they’ve been held up in Congress, largely by partisan maneuvers by Democratic and Republican politicians. US labor unions have tended to oppose the unpopular trade deals, and Obama himself expressed doubts about FTAs when he was running for the presidency in 2008.

Unions and social movements in the affected countries—especially Colombia—strongly oppose the agreements. US labor groups were sponsoring a Colombian trade delegation in Washington in mid-June to lobby against the Colombian accord. George Kohl, senior director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), told the Washington Post that the administration and Congress should hold off on the agreement until there is evidence that the Colombian government has fulfilled its commitment to reduce anti-union violence in the country. “Lets have real proof, not promises of proof,” Kohl said.

The DC-based nonprofit Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) is urging activists to tell their congressional representatives to oppose the FTAs. A form letter and other information are available at (WP, June 15; AFGJ urgent action, June 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 19.

See our last posts on Colombia and Panama.