President Barack Obama says he is confident that a free trade agreement between the United States and Panama can move ahead in the U.S. Congress. The president discussed the issue Thursday with Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli.
President Obama says Panama has made significant reforms in banking and taxation, removing barriers to U.S. approval of the trade deal.
"We are confident now that a free trade agreement would be good for our country, would create jobs here in the United States, open up new markets with potential for billions of dollars of cross-border trade," he said.
The U.S. and Panama reached agreement on the deal this month, after Panama approved a provision to discourage the use of its banks by those seeking to evade taxes in other countries.
Mr. Obama thanked President Martinelli for his leadership on the issue, and the Panamanian president also expressed confidence that the agreement can move ahead.
"Panama has completed all the necessary steps in order to have a free trade agreement with the U.S. This new agreement will bring jobs for both countries. It will also bring growth for the United States and for Panama," he said.
The Obama administration is talking with lawmakers about the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, as well as free trade deals with Colombia and South Korea.
White House officials have not discussed a specific timeline for having Congress approve those pacts.
The deals with Panama and South Korea are ready to be considered on Capitol Hill.
The agreement with Colombia can move forward when the administration is satisfied that the government in Bogota is meeting specific goals as part of an “action plan,” which mostly relates to workers’ rights and protection of labor union activists.
Some lawmakers oppose including all three trade agreements in a single legislative package.
President Obama said he and Mr. Martinelli also discussed a regional security deal, in which Panama would play a key role in stopping the flow of illegal drugs from Central and South America.
"We discussed how we can cooperate together, not only in the interdiction side, but also in helping other countries in the region to build up their capacity. And we think that Panama is going to be critical to the Central American Security Partnership that I have announced previously," Mr. Obama said.
That partnership, announced in March, is intended to protect citizens in the Americas from organized crime, gangs and drug-fueled violence.