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Bush Wants Free Trade with Colombia

U.S. President George Bush wants Congress to approve a free trade agreement with Colombia. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats have delayed that vote until after November elections.

Most Colombian exports enter the United States duty free. But the 9,000 U.S. businesses selling goods and services in Colombia still face stiff tariffs.

That is why President Bush says it is time for Congress to pass a free trade agreement with Colombia.

"Their goods are not taxed. Our goods are," he said. "It seems unfair to me. And people of Congress should understand how unfair it is to the workers in their districts or the farmers in their districts or the people who are working hard for a living in their districts who count upon selling goods overseas."

The president says the free trade agreement has enough support in the House of Representatives to pass. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed that vote until after November's presidential and legislative elections.

Pelosi says President Bush should do more to help American workers hurt by the economic slowdown before Congress passes another trade agreement. Some congressional Democrats are also raising concerns about Colombia's human rights record and its past repression of trade unionists.

Mr. Bush says Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has addressed those issues by demobilizing thousands of paramilitary units and naming an independent prosecutor to pursue cases involving attacks against labor leaders.

The president told a gathering of U.S. business leaders on the South Lawn of the White House that approving the deal is the best way to support President Uribe, who is battling rebels and illegal drug traffickers while speaking out against the anti-American rhetoric of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

"If we were to turn our back on Colombia by rejecting the free trade agreement, it would send a terrible signal to leaders willing to be courageous. It would send a bad signal to our friends," said Mr. Bush. "In the case of Colombia, it would send a bad signal to the voices of false populism in South America."

Colombia is the largest export market for U.S. agricultural products in South America. Two-way trade between the countries last year totaled $18 billion.

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