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Colombia trade pact may fall prey to November elections

Bush sends the free-trade agreement to Congress, but stiff opposition could derail it.

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If President Bush was looking for an opportunity to stir up a hornet's nest, he found it when he submitted the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress this week.

By sending Congress the free-trade agreement (FTA) that he negotiated with Colombia in 2006, Mr. Bush forces a vote on the controversial accord sometime over the next few months – just as members of Congress enter an election season with an electorate that is increasingly skeptical of free-trade policies and is also dealing with mounting job losses.

During his presidency, Bush has expanded free-trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere to Central America and into South America to Peru. Bush hopes to cap this expansion with the addition of Colombia by the end of his term, but the pact is in serious risk of falling prey to the politics of the November elections.

The two Democratic presidential candidates oppose the deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already told Bush that the accord faces stiff opposition over human rights concerns in Colombia, and some prominent Republican senators are also announcing they'll oppose the pact.

In announcing Monday he was submitting the pact for congressional approval, Bush took a high-stakes tone, citing national-security interests and warning of the damaging impact on US relations with its southern neighbors if the accord were rejected. "The need for this agreement is too urgent – the stakes for our national security are too high – to allow this year to end without a vote," he said.

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