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Colombia Deal Heads to Congress

President Bush, joined by cabinet members, prepares to sign documents to send the TPA to Congress. (AP Images)

April 07, 2008

Following up on a pledge that he would press for congressional approval of a bilateral trade deal with Colombia, President George W. Bush sent legislation to the U.S. Congress to implement the pact. During a speech at the White House, Bush called passage of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) “urgent for out national security reasons.” 

Once TPA legislation arrives in Congress on March 8, the House of Representatives has 60 days to vote on the pact and the Senate has an additional 30 days. “Many in Congress have tremendous respect for the progress that President [Alvaro] Uribe has been able to make under difficult circumstances,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in reaction to the news that the deal was headed for congressional approval. However, Reid warned that the White House decision to push through a vote jeopardized the bill’s chances of succeeding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made similar statements last month. Sensitivity over the deal was demonstrated by the resignation of Mark Penn, chief strategist for Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Candidate Hillary Clinton, after release of information that he had lobbied on behalf of the deal. 

Despite protestations from some Democratic congressional leaders that the Bush administration is pushing through a vote, a White House spokesperson noted that “there hasn’t been a trade agreement that has had more communication between the administration and Congress as extensive as this one.” (PDF) U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, speaking in a CNN interview with Lou Dobbs, pointed out that a majority of Colombian exports enter the United States without tariffs and the deal would open Colombia to United States goods. A fact sheet from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative emphasizes (PDF) that nearly 8,000 small and medium-sized U.S. companies export products to Colombia.

Cabinet members professed their support and urged congressional approval of the deal as Bush signed documents to send the deal to Congress. The TPA would allow “improvements in areas such as dispute resolution, labor relations, transparency mechanisms and regulations to combat corruption,” wrote U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in the Miami Herald. In the Wall Street Journal, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote that, by approving the TPA, Congress could strengthen U.S. competitiveness and support a regional ally.