CARTAGENA, Colombia -- The Obama administration says Colombian officials have taken sufficient steps to protect the rights of workers to allow a free trade agreement with the U.S. to move forward.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Sunday morning that the trade pact will go into operation in May, opening the way for a new level of trade and travel between the two countries.
The decision that Colombia has met that mark puts President Obama at odds with some U.S. labor leaders. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka warned Obama a few days ago that it was too early to declare success for the labor action plan, which Colombian officials signed onto last year in an effort to get Congress to ratify the trade deal.
Trumka and other union leaders are an important part of Obama’s effort to shore himself up with blue-collar workers during his reelection campaign this year.
But advisors to the president say that promoting an economic agenda is critical for the U.S. economy and, thus, for the president. The agreement is popular among U.S. business leaders, some of whom accompanied the president on his trip to Latin America this weekend.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday and, after a one-on-one session behind closed doors, is set to address reporters alongside the Colombian leader.
Kirk called Sunday’s decision “a significant milestone” that advances not only American economic interests but strategic ones as well.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said she has met with labor leaders and officials here and that she has confidence that things will move forward “on the right track.”
“This is a work in progress,” she said, adding, “I remain confident about these challenges.”
Original source: Progress made on free trade agreement between the U.S., Colombia