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Peru’s president Garcia takes off for Washington on Sunday

Peruvian president Alan Garcia is currently packing his bags for his second get-together with U.S. president George W. Bush in Washington.

He is scheduled to depart from Lima’s Jorge Chavez airport on Sunday and will shake hands with Bush at the White House a day later on Monday, April 23rd. Later he will meet with various legislators and government officials before returning to Lima on Wednesday.

A White House press notes states the visit will underscore the friendship and cooperation between the United States and Peru, and will be an opportunity for the President to continue to build on the relationship with a key regional partner who is committed to democracy.

The visit will also be an opportunity for the President to underscore his appreciation for President Garcia’s positive leadership in Peru and within the region. The two leaders will discuss continuing cooperation in areas of mutual interest, including the importance of free trade to sustained economic growth, job creation, and prosperity.

Again, Garcia Perez and foreign minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde will try to convince congressional democrats of ratifying a free trade agreement signed last year between both countries. Democratic legislators are trying to toughen labor provisions by applying International Labor Organization standards, such as the right to organize and bans on forced or child labor, to U.S. labor laws.

U.S. business groups on the other hand are lobbying the administration to keep the labor provisions out of pending agreements with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

“These are free-trade agreements that are supposed to be about the free flow of goods and services, not U.S. labor law,” said Christopher Wenk, senior director for international policy at the Washington-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S. National Association of Manufacturers also warned Congress yesterday that the trade group would not support pending free-trade agreements if they applied international labor standards to U.S. laws, which, NAM said, could pose a challenge to U.S. sovereignty.

“Subjecting our labor system to foreign challenge is simply not something to which we can agree,” NAM President John Engler wrote to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-New York). “If that were the price of obtaining new trade agreements, we would not be able to be supportive.”

Mr. Engler said many U.S. labor laws, “though of very high quality, do not follow ILO standards.”

“Our federal and state labor laws contain provisions for health, safety, and good governance, as well as sovereign state choices on subjects like right-to-work laws, and provisions related to public sector employees that are contrary to ILO requirements.”

Democrats and labor unions say the fears of U.S. businesses are unfounded.

Moreover, America’s ability to continue to strive for freer trade rests upon Congress extending President Bush’s trade promotion authority (TPA), which will expire on June 30.

According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, Peru, Panama, and Colombia – the two other Latin American countries whose treaties are still pending – totaled $28 billion last year and would grow by about $3 billion a year with just Peru and Colombia if the agreements are approved.

Currently, steep domestic tariffs in Peru make U.S. exports uncompetitive, even though trade into America is largely duty-free as a result of previous agreements.

“With these free-trade agreements, there will be so many opportunities for U.S. businesses, and it will help further stabilize our own economies, so it’s good for both sides,” said Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos, Peru’s Ambassador to the U.S., said on Wednesday during a visit to California whose ports – mainly Long Beach and Los Angeles – handle roughly a quarter of all U.S. trade with Peru.

Peru’s largest opposition force, Ollanta Humala’s Nationalist party and the “Union por el Peru” are also against the commercial treaty. They believe the deal would mostly play in the hands of the Peruvian upper business class and its benefits will not trickle down to poor, thus widening the immense gap between rich and poor even more.

Article by Wolfy Becker