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Colombia sees no U.S. trade deal this year

ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States Congress is unlikely to vote this year on a free-trade deal with Colombia, Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata said on Thursday.

The Democrat-controlled Congress has been reviewing trade pacts agreed by the administration of President George W. Bush and the Colombia deal has run into opposition from U.S. labor groups because of killings of trade unionists in Colombia.

Plata told Reuters that Congress would only finish voting on another free-trade deal with Peru by mid-November, by which time Congress will be about to head into a recess.

“But then there will be no more time for an additional trade agreement to be analyzed and voted, be it Colombia or any other trade agreement,” he said during a European tour.

Colombia would test the waters in February next year when Congress reconvenes, he said, noting it was up to the U.S. administration, not Colombia, to push for a vote.

There was no doubt of the Bush administration’s commitment to the deal, Plata said.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab will visit Colombia on February 2 and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez will visit soon after. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson also plans a visit.

Plata said the administration of President Alvaro Uribe has increased spending on protecting trade unionists. Killings of unionists had fallen to 20 this year, still unacceptably high but a big improvement on 196 in 2002 when Uribe took office.


The U.S. free-trade agreement is part of a Colombian plan to build up bilateral and regional trade deals because of the slow progress of global talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We’re totally committed to the Doha Round,” he said. “Since there’s been such a delay in moving in the WTO we’ve opted for also pursuing a strategy of bilateral trade agreements.”

Colombia aims to have nine free-trade agreements, covering ties with 54 countries, in place by 2010, he said.

Plata said a decision this month to join the Bank of the South, a development institution central to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s drive for left-wing integration in South America, had nothing to do with the slow pace of a U.S. free-trade deal.

Colombia had resisted joining the bank, which it believes is superfluous given the existence of the CAF, the financing arm of the Andean Community, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

“There’s been so much insistence and there’s been so much interest on the part of our neighbors that at some point we said, ‘OK, if everyone wants to go with that, we won’t be the oddball, and we’ll join the group’,” he said.

Plata said the share of foreign direct investment (FDI) going into resources was falling as a share of the total, with increasing amounts going into retailing, manufacturing, hotels and infrastructure.

The government says FDI will rise to $8 billion this year from $6.5 billion in 2006.

Nevertheless, he said Swiss-based commodities producer and trader Glencore now rivals the world’s number two brewer SABMiller Plc as Colombia’s biggest investor.