San Francisco Chronicle / AP
By E.J. TÁMARA, Associated Press Writer
May 27, 2009

http://www.sfgate.com

(05-27) 20:53 PDT Los Angeles, CA (AP) —

Colombia needs to address the issue of violence against union leaders before the U.S. Congress votes on a free trade agreement with the South American nation, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said Wednesday.

Locke, speaking at the Americas Business Forum of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Colombian government has improved security for its citizens but should work with the U.S. to make further strides.

Hundreds of union leaders have been killed in Colombia in recent years, even as guerrilla and paramilitary violence has lessened.

Locke also said the Obama administration strongly supports a free trade agreement with Panama, and United States Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk is working with the Panamanian government to resolve labor and tax issues.

"Our support for the trade agreement and our bilateral relationship is strong," he said. "Trade opportunity means jobs — opportunities of badly needed jobs for your companies, for the people of Los Angeles, California and America."

Locke said the U.S., Canada and Mexico conduct almost $2.7 billion in trilateral trade each day under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2009/05/27/financial/f194736D89.DTL