June 28, 2006

Peru ratifies US trade deal

By Marco Aquino

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peru's Congress ratified a
free-trade deal with the United States on Wednesday that the
country's president promptly signed despite noisy street
protests, clearing the way for its approval by U.S. lawmakers.

Congress voted 79-14 for the accord, which was backed by
businesses who say it will be a huge boost to Peru's
export-driven economy and opposed by farmers who fear that U.S.
imports will ruin their livelihoods. Six lawmakers abstained.

Thousands of demonstrators in Lima protested against the
deal, shouting "Down with the United States!"

Stephen Norton of the U.S. Trade Representative's office
welcomed the ratification and said it would create more jobs in
Peru, "opening a market of 28 million consumers to U.S.
manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers."

Peru's President Alejandro Toledo signed the pact in a
ceremony in Lima, allowing it to become law if the United
States approves the accord.

Peru's approval is a blow for Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez and his allies -- the leftist leaders of Cuba and
Bolivia -- who want Latin America to turn away from the United
States and join an alternative regional pact.

In the run-up to Peru's June presidential election, Chavez
supported a nationalist who pledged not to sign the free-trade
deal. Chavez says he will cut ties with Peru when
President-elect Alan Garcia takes office on July 28.

"Garcia is standing up to Cuban President (Fidel) Castro
and Venezuelan President Chavez in supporting the agreement,
and we owe it to the people of Peru to pass this quickly with a
strong bipartisan vote," said U.S. Rep. Bill Thomas, a
California Republican.

Business groups in the United States, Peru's top trading
partner, have been pushing for a vote on the agreement before
the August congressional break. But leaders in the House of
Representatives and the Senate have not committed to that.

Newly elected opposition lawmakers, who will take their
seats in Peru's next Congress on July 28, burst into Congress
during the 15-hour session in Lima to protest the pact,
interrupting the debate for half an hour.

Farmers plan a nationwide protest against the free-trade
pact on July 4, despite a Congress-mandated plan to provide $34
million in compensation for farms hurt by U.S. imports.

"The free-trade deal only confirms the continued
colonization of Peru by that great monster, the United States,"
said rice farmer Enrique Sanchez at the Lima protest.

(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington and
Robin Emmott and Isabel Ordonez in Lima)