April 29, 2009 / 5:04 PM / 11 years ago

Colombia seeks path for U.S. trade deal this week

* USTR Kirk to meet with Colombian official on Friday

* First chance for two officials to address roadblocks

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - Colombia’s trade minister will press the Obama administration and lawmakers this week to lay out a path toward congressional approval of a trade deal signed more than two years ago, a Colombian aide said on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama, who strongly opposed the agreement during last year’s presidential campaign, recently asked U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to work with Colombia and Congress to resolve violence and human rights concerns that have blocked approval of the free-trade pact.

Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata on Friday will meet with Kirk, who faces a tough challenge in persuading Democrats — particularly in the House of Representative — to support a trade deal negotiated by former President George W. Bush and opposed by U.S. labor groups.

"We basically are open to listening to Mr. Kirk and how he envisions this process," said Sandra Ocampo, press secretary at Colombia’s embassy in Washington. "What we expect is a ... path forward to continue working."

Kirk met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Plata this month at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. But this is the first chance for the two trade officials to dig into how to resolve the political and human rights challenges blocking approval of the deal.

Colombia, which says it already has done a lot to reduce killings of trade unionists and start prosecuting their murderers, has long pressed Democrats opposed to the deal to specify what more they want Colombia to do.

Plata will meet with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel and Ways and Means Committee Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin on Thursday.

Levin, one of Congress’ most forceful advocates of using trade to prod other countries toward U.S.-set social goals, was recently in Colombia and Panama on a fact-finding mission.

On the Republican side, Plata will meet later on Wednesday with Representative Kevin Brady, a senior member of the Ways and Means panel who has pressed Democrats for faster action on the Colombia and Panama deals.

Plata also was set to meet with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, White House National Security Council Director for the Western Hemisphere Dan Restrepo and Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Nancy Lee.

The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in December 2006 that approval of the deal would boost U.S. exports to Colombia by about $1.1 billion annually and increase U.S imports from that country by about $487 million. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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