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Monday, March 18 2019 @ 01:29 PM UTC

Bush: Will Call On Congress To Support Panama Trade Pact

Foreign Direct Investment By Henry J. Pulizzi - WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- President George W. Bush told Panamanian President Martin Torrijos Friday that he will prod lawmakers to ratify a pending free trade agreement between the U.S. and Panama. "I assure you we will work in good faith to get an agreement done and I will call upon the United States Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to support this deal that will help both nations," Bush said in the Oval Office after meeting with Torrijos. The agreement was signed in December, but hasn't been approved by legislators in either country. Democrats are pushing for labor standards to be addressed in outstanding trade pacts with Colombia, Peru and Panama. Advancing its free trade agenda is more difficult for the White House since Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in November. The administration wants to push through the outstanding agreements - land deals with South Korea and Malaysia - and extend Bush's trade promotion authority. Democrats, reluctant to be labeled as protectionists, have signaled they are open to the trade pacts, but want the deals to incorporate the United Nation's International Labor Organization core labor standards.

Bush told Torrijos that a trade deal with Panama is "in the interest of the United States." Torrijos said he is happy with Bush's commitment to the agreement. "I'm very pleased and recognize your commitment for pushing the free trade agenda and trying to finish the free trade agreement with Panama and the rest of the Latin American countries," Torrijos said, adding that he's satisfied Latin America is "still a very important part" of the White House's agenda. Early next month, Bush is traveling to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, a trip that is likely to emphasize regional trade. In addition to trade, Bush said he discussed energy with Torrijos, and the administration's drive to boost the use of biofuels. He said Panama can help. "I believe your capacity to make biofuels and our desire to use biofuels will make an interesting match as we work to become less dependent on oil and better stewards of the environment," Bush said.

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