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Hopeful Signs on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord — Finally

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”



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