June 12, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama is eager to discuss a long-delayed free trade agreement with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe when the two leaders meet on June 29, the White House said on Friday.
Colombia is a close U.S. ally and Obama looks forward to discussing a number of issues with Uribe, including how to enhance regional security and development, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
"The president also looks forward to discussing with President Uribe our economic engagement, including the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement," Gibbs said.
Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer, signed the free trade agreement with the United States in November 2006.
But to Uribe’s frustration, former President George W. Bush was unable to persuade the Democratic-controlled Congress to approve the pact because of concerns many U.S. lawmakers had about anti-labor violence in Colombia.
Obama, who also opposed the trade deal during last year’s presidential election, asked U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in April to work with Congress and Colombia to establish "benchmarks" for Bogota to meet in reducing killings of trade unionists and increasing prosecutions.
Obama and Uribe will discuss how to consolidate recent "security gains in Colombia through effective governance, as well as other ways to further strengthen the bilateral relationship," Gibbs said.
Colombia, supported by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, has made substantial gains in recent years over a four-decade-old rebel insurgency.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Eric Beech)