By Vicki Needham - 04/28/11 10:28 PM EDT
During a joint news conference, the leaders said they discussed security, including cooperative efforts on drug interdiction and the problem of the drug trade in Central America as well as human-rights issues and freedom of the press, which they say would help the United States and Panama achieve far-reaching benefits throughout the region.
"We are going to work very closely with the United States on security and on commerce, because this is the only way that we can expand growth in both of our economies, expand trade, expand jobs, and at the same time, this will bring a better quality of life to all the citizens of the U.S. and of Panama," Martinelli said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that the Panama deal was ready for consideration by lawmakers in Congress.
Martinelli noted that Panama's government has completed all of the necessary steps to wrap up the deal, including passage of a tax information exchange agreement (TIEA) dealing with Panama's history as a tax haven, which was the final step in the process following approval of updated labor laws to protect union organizers and members.
U.S. trade officials have said Panama's actions represent a significant change and improvement in its labor and tax laws.
Lawmakers across both parties have not only expressed support for the trade agreements but urged the White House to pick up the pace to complete the deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea in quick succession.
Technical talks have been under way for at least a month on the Korean deal, and the Obama administration is waiting for the Colombian government to meet a series of goals to further strengthen labor laws.
Hitting those marks "paves the way to consider the next step, but first we have to make sure that goals in that agreement are being met," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said recently.
The administration has said it wants Congress to move ahead on the South Korean trade pact first, and then move on to the others.
With Korea and Panama moving forward and the prospects for Colombia appearing positive, the Obama administration is pressing for passing elements of a broader trade agenda and asking Congress to reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA), which helps U.S workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign trade, and the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), as part of an effort to stop the illegal narcotics trade.