Peru’s Apra party, led by President-elect Alan Garcia, will support in Congress the free trade agreement Peru negotiated with the US, according to party officials.

Peru and the US, along with other Andean nations, entered into talks in May 2004 for a deal to lower trade barriers. Late last year Peru reached an agreement with the US which must still be approved by the legislatures of both nations.

The social democratic Apra party has a key bloc of 28 members in Peru’s 120-seat unicameral legislature.

The Apra bloc, aligned with the members of Congress who support President Alejandro Toledo or who support the free trade deal, should be enough to provide the majority needed to approve the pact, analysts said.

“There is a political decision to approve the pact and from our point of view it should be done in this term,” Apra member of Congress Luis Gonzales Posada was quoted as saying in government newspaper El Peruano.

Opponents of the agreement are demanding that the government leave the pact for the incoming members of the new Congress, who will take office in late July. The opponents have been running a series of radio advertisements exhorting the government to cancel the deal.

President Toledo’s administration has been lobbying Congress to approve the agreement before the new government takes office, saying the current members of Congress have studied the pact.

Apra officials agree.

“There is no sense in leaving this to a new group of persons who don’t know what it is all about, and who will have to start from zero on the subject. We have to make decisions,” Apra’s secretary-general, Jorge del Castillo said.

Government officials warn that if the deal isn’t approved Peru could find itself in a position where it doesn’t get benefits from a free trade deal or from the ATPDEA, a US program that has given special tariff status to Andean nation exports in return for drug control programs. The ATPDEA expires at the end of this year.

“Apparently there are enough votes in Congress, although I don’t want to claim victory until there is the actual vote in Congress,” Trade Minister Alfredo Ferrero said on RPP radio.

President-elect Garcia has spoken out in favor of the free trade agreement, but has said his party wants the government to provide compensation for some sectors that are expected to be hurt by the deal, such as agriculture.

The executive branch has sent to Congress eight bills that are aimed at easing the negative impact of the deal on the agricultural sector, Congress said in a statement. (Dow Jones)