More skeptical Congress awaits U.S. trade pacts

The tectonic plates of American trade politics had already shifted slightly when President George W. Bush took a last stab at his economic legacy and appealed to Congress to approve the pending trade agreement with Colombia.

Some 40 Congressional candidates who campaigned on ''fair trade'' instead of ''free trade'' were victorious in the Nov. 4 elections, according to a post-election report from Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group. Proponents of fair trade want trade agreements to include enforceable standards on labor, environmental protection and food safety, and to bar special rules allowing foreign investors to sue governments over loss of profits.

While Congress wrestles with how to revive the economy, Bush has continued to push the long-stalled free trade pact with Colombia.

''We have also asked Congress, if they really want to help the economy and jump start jobs in our country, to pass the free trade agreements that are in front of them,'' White House press secretary Dana Perino said this week. ``Colombia Free Trade, in particular, is one that is ripe for the taking. But they also have [free trade agreements with] South Korea and Panama . . . that they're able to vote on as well.''

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