By  on November 17, 2005

WASHINGTON — House Democrats and U.S. and Latin American labor union leaders pressed the Bush administration on Wednesday to negotiate strong labor and environmental provisions in a free-trade agreement with the Andean countries.

U.S. trade officials are holding another round of talks here this week with their counterparts from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. Bolivia is participating as an observer, but is not yet a party to the talks.

Negotiators have said key issues, such as the rule of origin and whether the tariff-dropping deal will include allowances for foreign fabric and yarn, are still outstanding in the textile and apparel area.

The Bush administration in July pushed the Central American Free Trade Agreement through the House by two votes, overcoming strong opposition from sugar and textile producers, as well as Democrats who argued that the pact contained inadequate labor protection.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.), speaking at a news conference, cited Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo's endorsement of internationally accepted core labor standards in the Andean Free Trade Agreement and noted an accord would be more palatable to lawmakers if it contained provisions that are enforceable.

"If we moved in that direction, we would have trade deals up and down the Americas today," Becerra said. "Unfortunately, we have unwilling partners, not in our Latin American brothers and sisters, but it appears ... in the White House."

Thea Lee, deputy director of public policy at the AFL-CIO, said, "We are here today to send a very strong message to our negotiators who are trying to complete this agreement. We're telling them: 'Don't send us another flawed trade deal like NAFTA and CAFTA in a region like the Andean region where worker rights conditions are abysmal.' It is simply unacceptable."

For the year ended Sept. 30, the Andean countries, including Bolivia, exported $1.49 billion worth of apparel and textiles to the U.S., representing 0.57 percent of the U.S. apparel and textile import market, on a volume basis.

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