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Posted at 1:55 PM ET, 02/25/2011

On Bogota visit, Baucus urges approval of Colombia trade deal

By Felicia Sonmez

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Friday pushed for progress on a long-stalled trade deal between the U.S. and Colombia, emphasizing in a speech before Colombian business leaders in Bogota that he will work to ensure the pact is approved this year.

"I want to help my fellow Montanans, and millions of other people just like them in both the United States and Colombia, pursue their dreams of a brighter future for their children, neighbors, and communities," Baucus said in remarks before the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce, the National Business Association of Colombia and the Council of the American Enterprises.

"The U.S.-Colombia FTA is part of that brighter future," he added. "I will do everything I can to make that future a reality, and I am committed to ensuring that the United States approves the FTA as soon as possible this year."

Baucus, whose committee oversees trade issues, had earlier expressed support for the Colombia deal, one of three pending trade pacts that lawmakers have been urging the Obama administration to submit for ratification.

A recently-finalized trade agreement with South Korea is expected to be submitted to Congress by March, according to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. That deal is expected to receive broad support, although Baucus recently indicated that he would oppose the agreement unless South Korea reconsiders its restrictions on U.S. beef exports.

President Obama has cited the Korea pact as a model for other agreements, such as the deal with Colombia and another with Panama, both of which were negotiated by President George W. Bush. But the timing of both of those deals remains uncertain, as labor groups and many Democrats have expressed concerns over Panama's labor and tax-haven laws and continued anti-union violence in Colombia.

On his Colombia visit, Baucus met with Colombian officials and leaders from organizations working to reintegrate combatants into society. An interagency team of Obama administration officials also visited the country recently to address concerns over labor rights.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) earlier this month pushed Kirk to deliver the Colombia and Panama deals to Congress before July 1; the White House has not committed to a timeline.

The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for March 9 on the three trade deals, at which Kirk is expected to testify.

By Felicia Sonmez  | February 25, 2011; 1:55 PM ET
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