April 7, 2006

Democrats urge labor clause in Peru FTA

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration should
include a provision in a proposed free-trade pact with Peru
that the South American country meet international labor
standards, a group of congressional Democrats said on Friday.

The Bush administration gave Congress 90-day notice in
early January it intended to sign a bilateral free-trade deal
with Peru. Thursday was the earliest the pact could be signed,
but no date has been announced.

"Time is running short to develop solutions to address
outstanding concerns and have the agreement approved by
Congress this year. A key outstanding issue for us relates to
labor standards," a group of Democrats from the House of
Representatives Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees
said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

If USTR accepted an offer by Peruvian President Alejandro
Toledo to put the labor standards obligation in the pact, the
group said it would work with the administration on a major aid
package to ensure that Peru was able to implement the
agreement, particularly the labor elements.

Fifteen Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Bingaman
of New Mexico and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, and
independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont signed the letter.

A spokeswoman for Portman's office said the administration
was working with the Peruvians on the timing of the signing.

"President Toledo has emphasized repeatedly that Peru has a
strong labor law regime and that it has ratified the ILO
(International Labor Organization) core conventions and has ILO
consistent labor laws. He understands that the FTA will require
Peru to enforce its labor laws and has expressed his commitment
to ensure effective enforcement of those laws and to continue
to strengthen worker rights compliance," said spokeswoman Neena

"The administration has encouraged the government of Peru
to work with Congress to address members' concerns about worker
rights, as in the case of the Bahrain FTA and other FTAs. We
have been successful in getting partners to address labor
concerns in their countries and will continue to work with
Congress and them to do so."