Wednesday, March 12, 2008

White House worried time running out on Colombia deal

White House worried time running out on Colombia deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration can not allow Congress to run out the clock on free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea by delaying votes on the pacts, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

"We want to do this in a bipartisan way. We want to do this together. But I'll tell you, we can not run out of time," U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told reporters. "What has always worried us about this approach is that we're simply allowing the clock to be, to be run out."

The statement was the closest a Bush administration official has come to saying the White House was intent on submitting the agreements to Congress, even if it can not work out a deal with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pave the way for a vote on the three trade pacts.

Pelosi has insisted that Colombia make more progress reducing violence against trade unionists and bringing murderers to justice before Congress votes on that pact.

The pacts with South Korea and Panama have their own obstacles preventing their quick passage.

Several business lobbyists said they expected the White House to send the Colombia agreement to Congress as early as this week.

But asked if the White House planned to do that or just when the clock would run out on that agreement, both Gutierrez and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab refused to say.

"I'm not going to get into speculating on that, or setting up a date ... The only thing I will say is this is important for the president," Gutierrez said.

But from a national security standpoint, the United States can not afford to deny its longtime ally Colombia the benefit of a vote on the pact, Gutierrez said.

"Our goal has always been to work with Congress to find a way forward on the Colombia free trade, all of our free trade agreements," Schwab said. "We always had had the option of sending up the bill. We continue to meet with congressional leadership in the hope of finding a way forward."

Gutierrez said he was optimistic the Colombia agreement would pass if they submit it to Congress. But doing it in a bipartisan way would ensure a bigger vote, he said.

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