Obama planning visits to Latin America in March

U.S. President Barack Obama says in his State of the Union speech that he will travel to Latin America in March.

In his prepared remarks, President Obama says he will travel to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Two years ago, Obama visited Trinidad and Tobago to attend the 34-nation summit of the Americas.

Last March, the president met with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes in Washington, and pledged U.S. support for efforts to strengthen the economy of that Central American nation.

Obama said the U.S. wants to be an equal partner with El Salvador and other countries in the region. For his part, the Salvadoran leader said he hopes Washington will be a strategic partner to counter the problems of drug trafficking and organized crime.

Separately, President Obama notes in his speech that the United States will pursue free trade agreements with Panamá and Colombia, and will continue Asia-Pacific and global trade talks.

Earlier Tuesday, a top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives said Congress should move quickly to approve the pending agreements with Colombia, Panamá and South Korea.

Dave Camp, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, called for the deals to be approved in the next six months.

He said the deadline is being driven by the need to create jobs for American workers. He also urged President Obama to set a timeline during the State of the Union address for passing those deals.

The three agreements were signed in 2007 during the administration of President George W. Bush. The deals have been held up mostly because of Democratic lawmakers’ concerns, including provisions in the South Korea deal affecting the U.S. auto industry, and labor rights complaints in Colombia.

The top Democrat on the Ways and Means committee, Sander Levin, expressed optimism that the agreements could be approved with some changes.

In prepared remarks Tuesday, he said the pacts should not be considered all at the same time, but individually, based on their own merits.

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