By  on November 12, 2008

WASHINGTON — John Podesta, co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, said Tuesday the Colombia free trade agreement should not be linked to a $100 billion economic stimulus package being crafted by Democrats in Congress.

Speaking at a news conference here, Podesta responded to reports that President Bush told Obama at the White House on Monday that he might consider a broader economic stimulus package if Obama and Democrats drop their opposition to the Colombia trade deal. The president-elect and congressional Democrats have opposed the free trade accord because of reported human rights abuses, including assassinations of trade unionists.

Retailers and importers support the Colombian deal because it would make permanent duty free benefits for apparel imports to the U.S.

“While the topic of Colombia came up, there was no quid pro quo in the conversation,” Podesta said at the news conference, which was called primarily to release new rules on lobbyists. “The president didn’t try to link Colombia to the question of the economic recovery package going forward.”

Podesta said Obama and Bush discussed the Colombian deal and an economic package, which would include support for the troubled auto industry, separately. Podesta also noted that he met Monday with White House chief of staff Joshua Bolton and the two also discussed Colombia and economic stimulus separately. Podesta called Bolton on Tuesday morning to discuss the media reports of the Bush-Obama meeting and said “we cleared things up.”

“I would characterize our relationship as collegial and cooperative,” Podesta said. “We have had excellent cooperation.”

Obama’s team also said it plans to budget $12 million for the transition, $5.2 million of which has been appropriated by Congress. Podesta said the rest will be raised by individuals, but the team will bar federal lobbyists from contributing financially to the transition.

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