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Bush Wants Colombian Free Trade Agreement


President Bush says opposition Democrats in Congress are making a serious error by refusing to vote on a free trade agreement with Colombia. VOA White House correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush wants Congress to ratify a free trade agreement with Colombia because, he says, the status quo is unfair to American businesses that still pay stiff tariffs in Colombia while almost all of Colombia's exports to the United States enter duty-free.

"The situation is completely one-sided," he said. "Our markets are open to Colombian products, but barriers that make it harder to sell American goods in Colombia remain. If the free trade agreement were implemented, however, most of Colombia's tariffs on American goods would be eliminated immediately."

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush said there is also a strategic reason. He says lawmakers' refusal to ratify the trade deal would send a signal to allies in the hemisphere that America cannot be trusted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indefinitely delayed a vote on the deal. Many opposition Democrats in Congress oppose the free trade agreemen, because of Colombia's human rights record and the government's past efforts to suppress trade unionists.

President Bush said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has addressed those concerns and Congress is making a serious error in delaying the deal.

In the Democratic Party's radio address, Party Chairman Howard Dean criticized Republican Senator John McCain, the Republicans' presumptive nominee for president.

"This November, voters do have a choice," he said. "If you want more of this Bush economy, if you want to see our troops in Iraq for a long period of time, we can stay the course with Senator McCain. But the Democrats have a different vision for America's future."

New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama are battling for the Democratic Party's nomination, with an important primary on Tuesday in the state of Pennsylvania.

Dean says both candidates have a plan for getting out of Iraq so the nation can invest more in the economy and in creating jobs. McCain says his Democratic rivals would endanger U.S. national security by pulling out of Iraq regardless of conditions on the ground.

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