Bush Calls for Passage of Colombia, Panama Free Trade Agreements

President Bush has thanked the U.S. Congress for approving a free trade deal with Peru and is urging lawmakers to pass similar agreements with Colombia and Panama.

In his final State of the Union address Monday, President Bush highlighted Colombia in particular. He said failure to pass the deal with the Andean nation would "embolden the purveyors of false populism" in the Western Hemisphere.

The Bush administration says the deal with Colombia will boost Colombia's economy and help President Alvaro Uribe's government. The agreement faces opposition in Washington from Democratic lawmakers as well as labor and rights groups that criticize Colombia's human rights policies.

The trade agreement would eliminate virtually all tariffs between the United States and Colombia.

In December, President Bush signed the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement that clears the way for stronger economic ties with that nation. To win support for the deal from skeptical opposition Democrats, the Bush administration had to add provisions intended to protect workers and the environment in Peru. Opponents have argued U.S. jobs will be lost, but the Bush administration says the new deal will help create jobs.

Separately, some U.S. officials have said the deal with Panama may be in jeopardy because that country's National Assembly named as president Pedro Miguel Gonzalez, who has been indicted in the U.S. on murder charges. Some U.S. lawmakers have said his role as top lawmaker in Panama could lead them to delay approval of the trade deal or block it altogether.

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