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Obama to discuss trade with Panama's president

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will discuss a long-stalled free trade agreement when he meets with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli on April 28, the White House said on Monday.

The two presidents, in their first meeting, will talk about "next steps" over trade, the White House said.

Free trade deals between the United States and Panama, and its Latin American neighbor, Colombia, have been held up for years in the U.S. Congress, but that outlook has brightened.

The White House could send the Colombian trade pact to Congress within weeks, after resolving concerns over the protection of union organizers and other labor issues.

Separately, Panama's National Assembly has approved a tax information exchange treaty with the United States that clears a path for U.S. congressional action on a trade pact.

The Obama administration has supported trade as an engine of economic recovery. But some Democratic lawmakers have resisted moves that could erode U.S. jobs by allowing in cheap imports, and this has slowed the process of agreeing to deals.

Obama advanced a U.S.-South Korean trade pact after modifying an arrangement originally struck by his predecessor George W. Bush to address concerns voiced by his Democrats.

Republicans, who won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November, are pushing for greater trade deregulation and want action on all three deals by July.

(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Paul Simao)

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