WASHINGTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Colombia’s trade minister said he sees a “will to find a solution” among top U.S. officials on the stalled trade deal with his nation but he said he did not know how long it would take.
“We didn’t discuss any timeframe,” Luis Guillermo Plata told reporters after meeting U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and senior U.S. lawmakers.
“We said, ‘Let’s focus on getting the content down,’ and then, of course, depending on that content, some things might take longer than others,” Plata said.
The bilateral trade deal was negotiated more than two years ago by former President George W. Bush but needs approval from Congress, where some Democrats want Colombia to do more to end violence against labor union leaders.
President Barack Obama opposed the agreement during last year’s presidential campaign but recently asked Kirk to work with Colombia and Congress to resolve concerns.
Plata said he did not discuss details with lawmakers about what measures Colombia needs to take to get the deal approved.
“We see that there’s a will to work, there’s a will to find a solution, there’s a will to sit down and set up an agenda, define some topics, and try to resolve the situation and get the (free trade agreement) going,” Plata said.
The U.S. International Trade Commission estimated in December 2006 that the deal could boost U.S. exports to Colombia by about $1.1 billion annually and increase U.S imports from that country by about $487 million.
Congress needs to pass the deal soon or U.S. exporters will be at a disadvantage to competitors from Canada and the European Union, which are finalizing trade deals with Colombia, said Bill Lane, a government affairs director with construction equipment maker Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N).
“This has to get done this year,” Lane told reporters at a meeting hosted by the National Foreign Trade Council. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bill Trott)