Agreement With Colombia

Democrats to Seek Delay on Trade Pact

By Paul Kane and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 10, 2008

Rebuffing a furious Bush administration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she will try to delay a trade agreement with Colombia and asked President Bush to first address Democratic demands for more domestic economic stimulus measures.

Pelosi said the House will vote on a rule change today to freeze the clock on when it must consider the pact, despite a law that requires the House to consider the Colombia Free Trade Agreement within 60 legislative days after its delivery to Capitol Hill. Bush sent the pact to Congress Tuesday.Aides to Bush and Cabinet officials accused Pelosi of effectively killing the trade pact, harming diplomatic relations with an important ally and threatening the next administration's bargaining power in trade talks.

"What country, after this action, will look to the trade representative . . . and think that they'll be able to count on their word?" White House spokeswoman Dana Perino asked. "It's very, very troubling."

But Pelosi said the pact would be defeated if she brought it up for a vote, and signaled that Democrats want to focus on U.S. economic woes.

"We're first and foremost here to look out for the concerns of America's working families. I take this action with deep respect to the people of Colombia and will be sure that any message they receive is one of respect for their country," Pelosi said.

The United States and Colombia completed a trade agreement in 2006, then renegotiated its terms last year under demands from Democrats to toughen labor and environmental standards. Pelosi was involved in the 2007 discussions but voiced some concern about labor protections.

The deal would open Colombia to many U.S products currently subject to stiff tariffs. Under annual agreements, most Colombian goods can be exported duty-free to the United States, but the new pact would make the arrangement permanent.

Trade between the two countries totaled a modest $18 billion in 2007. It included coffee, fruit and clothing from Colombia and automobiles and farm machinery from the United States.

Bush views free trade as one of the signature issues of his presidency. He said this week that loosening market barriers with Colombia is vital to the U.S. economy and would bolster the rule of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally.

Bush said Uribe has made strides in quelling violence and in battling the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist guerrilla force that the U.S. government has designated a terrorist group.

After Pelosi's announcement, the administration organized a series of fierce rebuttals to the Democrats' tactic. Perino suggested that Democratic leaders want to avoid a vote because they are at risk of losing. She said many Democrats "don't want to have their fingerprints on killing it. . . . The fact that they don't even want to have a vote should tell you something."

Perino's deputy, Tony Fratto, said that "tomorrow's vote is effectively a vote to kill this agreement -- and with it, the jobs that would have been created for American workers."

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