U.S. and Colombia Agree to Action Plan for Trade Agreement

By Kelsey Snell

After months of negotiation, White House officials announced an action agreement with Colombia on Wednesday that could bring a long-stalled trade agreement with the South American country to Congress this year.

Under the agreement, the Colombian government must meet a series of benchmarks on labor law, labor violence, and prosecution of those who commit violence. Obama administration officials said the requirements in the plan should be sufficient to allow the trade pact to advance.

The deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, Michael Froman, told reporters the plan provides incremental steps that constitute a “fulsome approach” that will resolve concerns that so far have prevented the administration from advancing the trade agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Colombia will be expected to complete some steps of the action plan before the agreement can be submitted to Congress. Others are slated to be fulfilled while Congress considers the deal and others are expected to be resolved before the deal is ratified, he said.

Assuming that Colombia fulfills its part, Kirk said the agreement will satisfy administration labor concerns, and once the pact has taken effect the U.S. will be able to enforce labor provisions through dispute settlement processes spelled out in the pact.

Though much of the call focused on the Colombian agreement, White House officials also confirmed that a pending pact with Panama is also nearly complete and both deals are expected to advance to Congress shortly.

“We are now in the position where we can have a conversation with Congress about when would be the best time to move forward with Colombia and Korea, and very soon we hope to be in that position with Panama,” Kirk told reporters.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to Washington on Thursday to meet with President Obama in order to finalize the pact.

“We are encouraged by the action plan. We anticipate that our presidents will approve it, but we want to make clear that it is a working document,” Kirk said.

Though the plan is a significant step forward, White House officials refused to commit to a time frame for drafting the final implementation bill with members of Congress. Both Froman and Kirk stressed that Colombia will have to meet those requirements in order for the U.S to move forward.

Earlier, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the labor and judicial reforms should satisfy lawmakers’ concerns.

“Presidents Obama and Santos showed courage and pragmatism in striking this accord,” said U.S. Chamber President Thomas Donohue.

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