NEW YORK, April 12 (Reuters) - The ambassadors of Peru and Colombia appealed to Wall Street investors on Thursday to help round up the 60 Democratic votes in the U.S. House of Representatives that the say are needed to pass the two countries’ free trade pacts with the United States.
They said the Republicans generally back the accord, and outlined ways investors could counter Democrats’ concerns on labor and environment, the main sticking points delaying congressional approval of the pacts.
The trade pacts, signed last year, face stiff opposition from the AFL-CIO labor federation, a strong Democratic backer.
The AFL-CIO rules out a U.S. trade pact with Colombia as “not fixable” because of what it says is the country’s “atrocious” record of violence against unionists, 200 of whom it says have been killed since the free trade talks began in 2004.
Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco said at the Americas Society that at most 65 unionists were killed last year, down from some 220 in 2002 when President Alvaro Uribe took office.
“The government is very worried about this, we understand this concern,” she said. Colombia is providing security to a large number of labor activists, and a prosecutors’ office recently began handling 100 criminal cases of anti-unionist violence, Barco said.
Uribe inherited a “very violent country,” she added. In cracking down on political violence, he halved the number of murders in in Colombia to 15,000 last year, she said.
Asked which way members of the U.S. House of Representatives were leaning on the trade pact, she said Republicans generally backed the accord but that it seemed at least 60 Democrat votes were needed for it to pass. Democrats hold a 233-201 advantage over Republicans in the House.
Peru’s ambassador, Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos, said his country’s calculations were similar.
He saw no problem in addressing another concern which had surfaced — the illegal export of mahogany in Peru. Police could handle that at a provincial level, he said.
Up to 30 percent of hardwood lumber and plywood traded internationally may now come from reserves and forest fragile areas including the Peruvian Amazon, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, and other legislators say.
They introduced a bill in March to prevent imports of illegally logged wood.
While the bill is not tied to the trade pacts, the sentiment of the House is closely watched since it is where the trade pacts will likely first be considered. Opposition to the pact is widely seen as stronger in the House than the Senate.