US, Colombia free-trade agreement to be implemented in May

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Sunday that the United States and Colombia will enter into their trade agreement on May 15, an announcement which comes as President Obama concludes his visit to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas.

The free trade agreement, which had taken several years to complete before Congress passed it last year, is now set to take effect after the Obama administration determined that Colombia had taken sufficient steps to address union worker concerns in a Labor Action Plan.

"We believe this is a very historic step," Kirk said Sunday, according to Reuters.

But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the Obama administration's announcement was "deeply disappointing and troubling" because Colombia had not made enough progress on protecting workers' rights.

"Rather than insisting that the Colombian government honor its promises to Colombia’s working class, our government signaled with today’s decision that a little improvement is good enough," Trumka said in a statement. "Premature certification of the Labor Action Plan undermines the early signs of progress that have been achieved for Colombian workers — and could prevent further progress."

The agreement was hailed by pro-business groups, however, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called it a "landmark agreement."

U.S. Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said the agreement "opens the door to new business opportunities, economic growth, and job creation in the U.S. and Colombia."

“Today our two countries can celebrate as we take our partnership to a new level," Donohue said in a statement.

The free trade agreement will reduce Colombian duties on 80 percent of U.S. exports.