August 15, 2006

Ex-Peru leader defends labor record as US vote nears

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former Peruvian President Alejandro
Toledo urged U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday to support a trade pact
with his country, saying Democratic party concerns about weak
labor protections were misplaced.

Democrats have expressed concern that the agreement failed
to guarantee basic rights like freedom to associate and
collective bargaining, the elimination of forced labor, the
abolition of child labor and the elimination of discrimination
in the workplace.

The Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives were
expected to vote on the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement
sometime after lawmakers return from a month-long August

Toledo argued that Democrats should not be concerned that
the pact does not explicitly require Peru to meet International
Labor Organization, or ILO, standards, because the Andean
nation already does so.

"We have no problem at all with complying with the ILO
(International Labor Organization)," Toledo said at the
Inter-American Dialogue, which focuses on Western Hemisphere
policy issues. "But we do it because it's our conviction, not
because we want to get involved in an electoral fight between
Republicans and Democrats."

Peru's legislature approved the pact shortly before Toledo
left office at the end of July.

U.S. Democrats raised the same concerns about a free trade
agreement with Central America, which the House approved last
year by just two votes after a bitter partisan debate.

In addition, many Democrats are using Toledo's comments to
criticize the way the Bush administration negotiated the
agreement. They cite both public and private remarks Toledo
made indicating Peru would have been willing to incorporate ILO
standards into the text of the agreement.

Instead, the pact includes what many Democrats consider a
much weaker provision -- the requirement that both the United
States and Peru enforce their existing labor laws.

Toledo acknowledged suggesting the two countries talk about
how to incorporate ILO standards into the text. "I was the one
that proposed that," he said.

Meanwhile, Toledo declined to say whether the United States
should renew long-time trade benefits for two of its neighbors,
Ecuador and Bolivia, which expire at the end of the year.

However, he warned "we might fall into the trap of once
again of trying to put out a fire instead of preventing it" if
the United States does not pay attention to the region.

Unlike Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru and Colombia have locked
in duty-free access for their exports by negotiating trade
agreements with the United States.