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Fight Over Panama Free Trade Agreement Setting Stage for Colombia FTA
With the Obama Administration’s near-term trade agenda looking distressingly similar to that of the Bush Administration’s, worker rights advocates are gearing up for a fight against the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that could be brought to a vote in Congress this summer.
The U.S. government is pressing for Panamanian labor law and tax code reforms as a precondition for a vote, but the newly elected pro-business Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, is arguing against making changes until he is sworn in on July 1, which could lead to delays on a U.S. congressional vote.
Analysts believe that the fight over the Panama FTA will have significant implications for the Colombia FTA. A bruising congressional battle over Panama could delay consideration of the Colombia FTA; however if the Panama agreement breezes through, the Colombia FTA could be brought up sooner. Worker rights advocates and opponents of the current trade model have prepared resources and talking points against the Panama FTA, available from the Citizens Trade Campaign and Public Citizen.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has in recent weeks made clear that consideration of the Colombia FTA is likely only a question of when. The U.S. and Colombian governments are expected to begin discussing benchmarks for measuring progress soon, especially on violence against trade unionists and impunity, considered preconditions for a vote on the FTA. While some worker rights supporters are pushing for strong and meaningful benchmarks, others oppose involvement in a process that could yield a vote on the Colombia FTA model without securing fundamental changes in the agreement or the free trade model. The Obama Administration, however, is obviously not contemplating major changes in the trade model at this time, reflected in its pushing ahead with the pending FTAs with Panama and Colombia and in backing off a campaign position to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
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