April 17, 2010

Gates calls for ratification of Colombia-US trade pact, Published: April 16, 2010

Source: UPI

BOGOTA, April 16 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for ratification of the long-stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia during a visit to the country.

Gates said in Bogota he had met this week with James Jones, the White House national security adviser, about administration plans to seek congressional ratification of the agreement, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"I would hope we would be in a position to make a renewed effort to get ratification of the free-trade agreement," Gates said. "It is a good deal for Colombia; it is also a good deal for the United States."

The Defense Department says approval of the accord would reward Colombia's successful campaigns against drug trafficking and insurgents.

The free-trade agreement, signed by President Barack Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, has been backed by U.S. businesses while labor and human rights groups oppose it, citing Bogota's intolerance of labor activism. Some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern the agreement could cost American jobs, a contention the Obama administration disputes.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva said the free-trade agreement would "help further consolidate security in Colombia."

Gates's trip to Latin America is meant to highlight U.S. military partnerships with Colombia and Peru, the Times said, and the Obama administration says it hopes to forge smaller-scale agreements with other Latin American countries fighting drug trafficking and corruption.

But the Times said it's unlikely more than a few countries in the region would allow a significant U.S. military presence and most American trainers are committed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a senator and during his presidential campaign, Obama had opposed the free-trade agreement over suspicions the Colombian government sanctioned violence against opposition, unions and labor groups. But a meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe convinced Obama Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and the U.S. president ordered trade officials to move forward on the accord.

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