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Democrat Levin will fight Colombia trade deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives said on Monday he will fight a proposed trade pact with Colombia because it is unclear whether labor rights provisions will be enforced.

Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said legislation that would implement the agreement must make a clear link between a plan to protect labor rights in Colombia and the overall terms for opening trade with the United States.

The lack of that language is a "fatal flaw" in the implementing legislation, Levin said at a briefing.

"Inclusion of a clear link between the action plan and the free trade agreement sends a powerful signal to everyone in Colombia that the United States is serious about the fulfillment of commitments in the plan," Levin said.

Levin's opposition is significant since he is close to U.S. labor unions, a core constituency of Democrats. President Barack Obama will need union support in his bid for reelection next year.

An Obama administration official said the president was "deeply committed" to ensuring that Colombia fully implements the action plan.

"Colombia has already made progress and we are monitoring their efforts closely to ensure that they continue to do so going forward," the official said.

Colombia has promised to improve protection of labor leaders and organizers targeted by right-wing groups in order to advance the pact that has been stalled in the U.S. Congress for four years in the face of staunch opposition from unions.

Colombia's action plan has cleared the way for backing from some other Democrats, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.

While Levin said he will "actively oppose" the Colombia deal, he said he backs proposed agreements with South Korea and Panama after changes that addressed his concerns.

Levin's support for those two accords could help clear the way for quick congressional passage.

Obama is under pressure from Republicans to push forward on these trade deals as a way to help boost the sluggish U.S. economy.

But unions blame trade accords for a massive loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States and are skeptical of any new agreements.

(Reporting by Donna Smith)

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