Sunday, April 29, 2007

Señor Garcia Goes to Washington

Prospects for ratification of the Peru-United States free trade agreement (FTA) inched forward last week when Peruvian president Alan Garcia met with George W Bush and Democrat and Republican legislators during a trip to Washington DC.

Democrats continue to insist on changes to strengthen the labour and environmental conditions of the agreement. But they look set to reach a compromise with Republicans that will allow the agreement - which has already been approved by Peru's congress - to be debated and passed by the US Congress before its August recess.

Garcia's meeting with Bush was full of hearty cordiality, as they discussed both the trade agreement and measures to counter narcotrafficking. Bush said that Garcia was "a good guy, and he gives good advice" ('escape to Colombia at the end of your presidential term to avoid investigation', perhaps?).

But in a later meeting, Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid continued to press for changes in environmental and labour sections of the FTA, as did congressman Bill Pascrell who said there was still much to be improved in these areas before he would be convinced to support the agreement.

On day two of his visit, Garcia met with Charles Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means committee, one of the two committees charged with reviewing the trade agreement. Rangel declared that the chances of congress ratifying the agreement were "better than good" but could not specify a timeframe. He stressed the need to continue work through details with the Republicans and the executive branch.

Accompanying Rangel was fellow Democrat Sander Levin, who had previously expressed misgivings about the trade agreement after a four-day fact finding mission to Peru.

While there is general consensus that the FTA will help produce the economic growth needed for Peru's development, critics say that it will hurt small rural producers that will have to compete with imports of subsidized American corn, rice, cotton, sugar and beef. They also worry that stricter enforcement of intellectual property law under the agreement could restrict Peruvian access to modern medicines.

Levin would like to see the US use its influence to support more stable, equitable growth when negotiating trade agreements with developing countries. He has argued that countries should be held to International Labor Organization minimum standards, rather than merely enforce their own laws, which may fall short of ILO standards. He also asserted that "it's necessary to assure access to generic medicines for Peruvians".

Garcia also met with congressional majority leader Nancy Pelosi - who reiterated her conditional support for the agreement - as well as Charles Cresley and Max Baucus from the Senate Finance Committee, the other body required to review the FTA. The Peruvian leader assured the press that he was confident of a way ahead. He stated that "it's a matter of process, rather than of reopening the negotiations".

By the end of the trip, Garcia had met with 43 representatives from the Congress and Senate, and declared that he was "leaving satisfied". Later, Peruvian chancellor José Antonio García Belaunde announced that there were "rumours" in Washington that Democrat and Republican leaders would soon sign a pre-agreement that would allow the agreement to be ratified by Congress before August.

But meanwhile, nationalist members of Peru's congress were planning to travel to the US with the aim of convincing US representatives not to ratify the agreement. They claimed to represent the "98 percent of business people who have been completely excluded from the negotation of this agreement". In an open letter to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, they argued that the trade agreement as it stands will exacerbate rural poverty and force poor farmers to turn to the illegal cultivation of coca.

(quotes as reported on Peruvian current affairs show 90 Segundos)

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