Colombian leader: Obama wants to move trade deal

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday said President Obama is “very interested in moving ahead” with a controversial trade agreement with the South American nation.

Uribe described a Monday afternoon meeting with Obama as constructive, and said the trade deal was vital to bringing prosperity to his country.

“We need the free trade agreement as a sign to investors from all over the world to be much more confident in Colombia,” Uribe said in comments at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Uribe met with Obama on Monday at the White House. They discussed the trade deal, as well as the weekend coup in Honduras and problems stemming from drug trafficking.

Obama said Monday he was “confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States,” but declined to offer a timetable for getting the agreement done. He suggested it would take time to consult with Congress.

Democrats in the House are divided at best over the Colombia deal, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused to bring up for a vote during the final year of the Bush administration.

Unions and human-rights groups oppose the trade deal, and have decried the murders of labor organizers in Colombia. While Obama on Monday said Colombia has made strides in this area, he said it still has more advances to make on the human-rights front.

The Obama administration appears to have pushed trade deals with Colombia and Panama to the side this year to avoid distractions while it prods lawmakers on healthcare reform and climate change legislation.

More than 100 House Democrats and two Republicans called on their colleagues and the president not to consider any new trade deals before a thorough renegotiation of international trade policy.

Republicans and business groups have called for action on the deal.

Speaking from the Senate floor on Thursday, Sen. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (R-Neb.), who as Agriculture secretary in the Bush administration lobbied members on the Colombia deal, urged his colleagues to implement free trade with Colombia, saying it would benefit American farmers, laborers and small-business owners.

Uribe on Tuesday said his administration has made Colombia safer for labor activists, journalists and political dissidents since coming to power in 2002.

Uribe touted a law he signed just before his visit to the United States increasing the statute of limitations for the killing of trade unionists and human-rights workers.

But Andrew Hudson, a senior associate at the nonprofit Human Rights First, dismissed the significance of the legislation. “The big problem in Colombia is not the laws,” he said. “The problem in Colombia is lack of implementation.”

Human-rights groups and labor unions have argued Colombia’s government has not done enough to prosecute those responsible for murdering labor activists.