A congressional committee has unanimously approved legislation to implement a free trade agreement with Peru, paving the way for consideration by the full House of Representatives next week. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, eventual approval by Congress of the Peru accord, along with other pacts with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, has been one of President Bush's priorities in advancing his trade agenda.
The United States and Peru signed the trade deal last year, and the White House sent an implementing measure to Congress under so-called fast-track rules requiring lawmakers to approve or reject negotiated accords.
Majority Democrats reached an agreement with the Bush administration earlier this year to strengthen labor and environmental standards in trade deals, a step aimed at improving prospects for passage of the president's agenda.
Wednesday's vote in the House Ways and Means Committee was 39 to zero, clearing the way for the full House to consider the Peru pact.
Congressman Charles Rangel chairs the committee:
"This was a record vote," said Charles Rangel. "This was a historic vote, and we had every vote on the committee."
Congressional approval would lift tariffs on 80 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports and more than two thirds of U.S. agricultural exports to Peru, with remaining tariffs phased out in coming years.
Although the Senate plans to vote on the House version of the Peru agreement, other pending accords face obstacles.
An accord with Colombia faces an uphill battle amid opposition from Democrats and labor unions critical of Colombian government steps to deal with violence and prosecute those responsible for killings of labor leaders.
Echoing President Bush's call for Congress to approve all four pending agreements, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez had this comment to reporters:
"We have four free trade agreements pending before Congress with Peru, Colombia, Panama and Korea," said Carlos Gutierrez. "These agreements will help create access by reducing trade barriers and creating new opportunities for America's farmers, workers and businesses. This is not the time to hesitate regarding free trade agreements. This is the time to add momentum to our export growth, and the way to do that is to pass the four free trade agreements as soon as possible."
But with Democratic leaders targeting November 16 for concluding major legislative work for the year, the Peru accord is likely the last to be considered, leaving action on Panama, Colombia or South Korea deals for 2008.
Separately on Wednesday, the House approved a Democrat-crafted measure expanding American worker's eligibility for tax, training and health benefits resulting from jobs lost because of globalization.
Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi described the legislation as the next step in expanding the economic security of Americans.
"Free and fair trade can only thrive if we help those who are facing the downside of a global economy," said Nancy Pelosi.
The House rejected an alternative by Republicans who said their proposal would do more to help workers adapt to a changing global economy by focusing more on job re-training.
However, the Bush administration has raised objections to the measure, raising the possibility of a presidential veto.
Democrats say a veto could threaten President Bush's chances to see his entire trade agenda win approval from Congress before he leaves office in early 2009.