Colorado Senators Likely To Support Free Trade Deal

    UPDATE: The Senate passed the Peru FTA by 77-18 votes, with Sens. Allard and Salazar supporting the measure.

    The U.S. Senate is expected to vote today on legislation that would relax trade regulations with Peru, an expansion on previous free trade agreements the U.S. has implemented with other North and Central American countries. Colorado’s two Senators will most likely be supporting the measure, despite concerns over workers’ rights and environmental protections.The Peru FTA was passed in the House of Representatives in November. Colorado’s House members supported the measure unanimously, and it looks like the state’s Senator’s will do the same. Ken Salazar’s office has confirmed that the Democratic Senator is planning on supporting the measure, and staffers at Republican senator Wayne Allard’s camp say that a yes vote is likely.

    Such votes are a drastic change from 2005, when seven House members — including Democrats Diana DeGette, John Salazar, Mark Udall and Republican Tom Tancredo — voted against similar legislation titled the Central American Free Trade Agreement. In the Senate, Sen. Ken Salazar also joined 45 colleagues to vote against the measure, which eventually passed both bodies during the year and became law soon after.

    Concerns have been raised over FTAs and their more relaxed labor, agricultural and environmental regulations, which have led to an outsourcing of jobs from the United States and allegations of workers’ rights abuses in other partnering countries.

    The American Friends Service Committee, the state chapter of the national Quaker organization that advocates for social justice issues, urged Coloradans in a statement yesterday to “call your senators and tell them the American people want real, not cosmetic changes, to the free trade model.”

    In a floor speech yesterday, Sen. Salazar said, “I believe in the benefits of free and fair trade. I believe that by working to lower trade barriers and expand access to foreign markets we can strengthen the U.S. economy in a way that benefits both businesses and workers and enhances our relationship with friends and allies in important parts of the world.”

    The Peru FTA has new provisions regarding workers’ rights, including internationally recognized language from the International Labor Organization, a specialized agency that is part of the United Nations. But critics say it doesn’t go far enough.

    In a previous Colorado Confidential story on the issue, Andrew Gussert, director of the Citizen Trade Campaign, a national coalition that was founded during the NAFTA debate and is opposed to the Peru FTA, voiced his concerns:

    “It’s worth nothing noting that the investment provisions and the types of language in Peru is almost word-for-word the same as CAFTA. There were provisions in Peru on environmental language and labor standards that were an improvement over past models, but it’s kind of like putting new tires on a car that doesn’trun. We’re looking for a new model that will change the way that trade works. The failed CAFTA and NAFTA model just isn’t doing it.”

    Gussert was also skeptical about the International Labor Organization language, saying that “a lot of it depends on George Bush enforcing that language, and he hasn’t shown that he is going to enforce this in the past. We don’t expect he will now.”

    Other trade deals are currently being negotiated for Colombia, South Korea, and Panama.

    Colorado Confidential will update readers on today’s vote.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at