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Bush Renews Call for Colombia Free Trade Agreement

President Bush wants U.S. lawmakers to ratify a free trade agreement with Colombia. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats are delaying a vote over concerns about Colombia's human rights record.

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

President Bush says that is not fair. "Doesn't it make sense to say to Colombia: 'We value our friendship, but we would like to be treated the way we treat you.' And that's what the Colombia free trade agreement says," he said.

Mr. Bush told a meeting of small business owners that the free trade agreement also has national security implications as Colombian President Alvaro Uribe battles rebels and illegal drug traffickers. "President Uribe is taking them on in a way that doesn't violate the human rights of his people. He is a strong, strong leader. And yet if Congress turns down this agreement, it is like turning our back to an ally, which will encourage the voices of false populism in our neighborhood," he said.

President Bush says approving the deal is the best way the United States can demonstrate its support for Colombia at a time when President Uribe is speaking out against the anti-American rhetoric of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Bush believes the free trade agreement has enough support in Congress to pass, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indefinitely delayed a vote over Colombia's human rights record and past repression of trade unionists.

President Bush says President Uribe has already addressed those concerns by demobilizing tens-of-thousands of paramilitary fighters and appointing an independent prosecutor to pursue cases involving attacks against labor leaders.