Administration Pushes for Passage of Free Trade Agreements

By Wollack, Leslie | Nation's Cities Weekly, September 3, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Administration Pushes for Passage of Free Trade Agreements


Wollack, Leslie, Nation's Cities Weekly


The White House is pushing Congress to ratify four trade agreements when it returns from the summer recess that include unprecedented language on labor practices forced by the Democratic majority. The pending agreements are with Peru, Columbia, Panama and Korea.

The trade pacts the Administration has reached with Peru and Panama would require those two countries and the United States to uphold basic rights as outlined by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N.-sponsored agency that has monitored working conditions worldwide for almost a century. President Bush's authority to negotiate trade agreements that aren't subject to congressional amendment expired at the end of June, but the Peruvian and Panamanian accords were signed in time. These pacts do require approval by Congress before they can take effect.

The Latin American agreements would provide duty-free access to approximately 75 million consumers, a market which has risen by 90 percent between the years 2001 and 2006. According to the United States Trade Representative's Office, more than 19,500 companies export products to Peru, Columbia and Panama, and in 2006, United States goods exports totaled $2.9 billion to Peru, $6.7 billion to Columbia, and $2.7 billion to Panama.

The agreements eliminate tariffs on United States exports to those countries and provide new market opportunities for farmers and ranchers. The agreements would expand market access for United States service suppliers with new protections against discriminatory or arbitrary measures against United States companies.

International labor experts say referring specifically to ILO language, which has been interpreted in many official settings over time, will set a clear benchmark for acceptable and unacceptable labor practices. That's different from some earlier agreements, which just included a general list of ideals that weren't tied to any precedent.

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