President George Bush called on Congress Monday to pass a controversial free trade agreement with Colombia, declaring the need is urgent for US national security. The pact will give Congress a 90-day deadline to vote on the new legislation.
This agreement will advance America's national security interests in a critical region, it will strengthen a courageous ally in our hemisphere, it will help America's economy and America's workers at a vital time, it deserves bipartisan support from the United States Congress, Bush said at the White House.
Officials said the deal is one the administration sees as a vital move in Bush's foreign policy before he leaves office next year. The deal would largely open up the Colombian markets for American products without many of the duties that are now in place. Colombia is already able to send most good to the United States duty-free, but the deal would strengthen that preferential access, a boon to the country and to its investors.
The need for this agreement is too urgent; the stakes for our national security are too high to allow this year to end without a vote.
Bush, who strongly advocates free trade, is also hoping to win congressional approval before he steps down on pending free trade agreements with Panama and South Korea.
If the proposed agreement receives approval, it will be a step forward in breaking down trade barriers between the two nations and decrease Colombian import taxes on American goods.
Democrats in Congress oppose the proposed pact by saying Colombia has not done enough to address human rights issues, including anti-union violence, and could lead to further job losses in the South American country. Democratic Whit House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Bush not to send the pact for measure without first establishing a compromise with lawmakers.
The move comes a day after Mark Penn was forced to step down from his post as Senator Hillary Clinton's chief campaign strategist, after disclosing he met with Colombia's ambassador to the U.S. to discuss how to lobby Congress on the trade deal, which Clinton opposes.
We've tried to work with members of Congress very diligently over the past 16 months or so since we concluded the Colombia agreement, White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said Monday in response to the division in Congress from Democrats.
We have had literally hundreds of meetings and contacts with members of Congress. A lot of members of Congress have traveled to Colombia on trips that we've sponsored.
The House of Representatives will have 60 legislative days to hold a vote on the deal and the Senate an additional 30 days.