Dems throw down gauntlet on Andean free trade deals

Democratic opponents of free trade — who also happen to be strong union supporters —told U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Tuesday they will oppose the U.S. trade deals with Columbia and Peru because the pacts’ labor provisions don’t go far enough.

In a letter signed by some powerful Democrats, including in-coming Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the policymakers said they want the trade agreements to be renegotiated to include “core” labor provisions. They were also angry that the U.S. planned to sign the free trade agreement (FTA) with Columbia today (which did happen today).

Columbia’s President Uribe had visited U.S. lawmakers last week and reportedly was shaken by the possibility of renegotiating the trade deal.

Meanwhile, Peru’s president had appointed Hernando de Soto as his personal envoy to promote the trade agreement with the U.S.

What’s ironic is that the Columbian FTA includes in the body of the text a complete chapter on labor that includes 11 pages of provisions upholding the principles of the International Labor Organization, providing access for tribunals to ensure enforcement of labor laws, setting up a labor affairs council, and providing funding for “labor capacity building” projects.

This challenge by the Democrats doesn’t bode well for strengthening U.S. relations in Latin America, and countering President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as he tries to extend his influence. Maybe Rep. Rangel — famous for his attack on Chavez — ought to think about that.