Obama sees mutual benefits in Colombia-U.S. trade deal

President Barack Obama says a free trade agreement reached between the United States and Colombia will benefit both countries’ economies. Obama met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Thursday.

After the meeting Obama said the new trade deal will help protect workers’ rights in Colombia and boost the U.S. economy.

“This represents a potential $1 billion of exports and it could mean thousands of jobs for workers here in the United States. And so I believe that we can structure a trade agreement that is a ‘win-win’ for both our countries,” Obama said.

White House officials announced the agreement on Wednesday, after Colombia agreed to do more to ensure workers’ rights and protect union organizers from violence.

Santos, speaking through an interpreter, said the breakthrough on the free trade pact will help boost Colombia’s economy and strengthen its democracy.

“We have been working on getting a green light for this to go to Congress for five years, and we got that green light today. This is a very important event for Colombia,” Santos said.

The U.S. Congress must approve the agreement before it can take effect.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers have expressed support for the agreement, as have major U.S. business leaders. The top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Thursday that his party has been urging Obama to advance this and other free trade agreements for more than two years.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea could provide up to 380,000 U.S. jobs. And we know that this deal alone would create tens of thousands of new jobs here in this country,” McConnell said.

The U.S. signed free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea in 2007. But lawmakers have not voted on them, and the Obama administration renegotiated some parts of the agreements.

Officials in Washington were especially concerned that Colombia was not protecting workers’ rights or the safety of union leaders.

Obama said Thursday that those concerns are being addressed. “We are going to continue to engage with President Santos and his administration in an active process to ensure good working conditions, to make sure that trade unionists are protected, to make sure that we are creating a level playing field for business and workers, here and around the world,” he said.

Obama also said he looks forward to visiting Colombia for next year’s Summit of the Americas.

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