For over two years, Democrats have stalled action on approving the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. Although free trade creates jobs without spending taxpayer dollars, approving the 2007 U.S.-Colombia agreement clearly is not on the Democrats' agenda. Enacting the agreement would create jobs in the U.S. and lower consumer prices at home, thus expanding family budgets during a recession and providing a no-cost stimulus that would actually work. It would also bolster a key strategic ally in an increasingly hostile neighborhood in Latin America.
U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement: On November 22, 2006, the governments of the U.S. and Colombia signed a trade promotion agreement, and on May 10th, 2007, the Administration and Congress agreed to a framework to provide for Congressional consideration of all the pending agreements. The Colombian government ratified the agreement twice, both the original agreement and the agreement as amended by the May 10th agreement. If approved by Congress, the deal would immediately eliminate 80 percent of all tariffs on U.S. exports to Colombia, and all remaining tariffs would be phased out. The agreement additionally reduces technical barriers to trade and provides U.S. firms with considerably more access to the Colombian services sector. The deal contains enforceable labor and environmental protections. The U.S. is currently Colombia's top trading partner. Although 90 percent of Colombian imports enter the U.S. duty-free, U.S. exports entering Colombia usually face duties of up to 20 percent. According to the Congressional Research Service, the impact of the agreement on the U.S. economy would be positive.
Stimulating the Economy, Creating Jobs: Enacting the agreement would provide the U.S. economy with a stimulus, increasing exports and creating jobs in the U.S. as the Colombian market is opened to American goods and services. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, exports of U.S. products to Colombia would increase by more than $1 billion per year. Congressional delay in approving the pact has already cost U.S. exporters over $2 billion in unnecessary tariffs. Along with exporters of machinery, vehicles, and chemicals, the deal would be a boon for U.S. agriculture (click here to view how the USDA estimates your State's farmers and ranchers will benefit). The beneficiaries of this deal will be consumers, small businesses, and job-seekers in the United States. According to the Department of Commerce, more than 10,000 companies do business with Colombia, including 8,500 small- and medium-sized businesses.
Lagging Behind Competitors, Risking Jobs: Major trading competitors of the U.S. are aggressively moving towards free trade with Colombia while Congress stands still. In March 2009, Canada completed a free trade pact with Colombia. The European Union (EU) is also working towards an agreement that may also incorporate Peru and Ecuador. If these deals are approved without action on the U.S.-Colombia agreement, American companies will be at a competitive disadvantage. According to an analysis by Republican Ways & Means Committee staff, an EU-Colombia free trade deal would reduce U.S. exports to Colombia of machinery by 15 percent, apparel by 21 percent and wool by 50 percent. Without U.S. action, a Canada - Colombia agreement would reduce U.S. exports of wheat by 38 percent and exports of cattle, sheep, and goats by 27 percent. Existing jobs in the U.S. will clearly be at risk if competitors gain greater access to the Colombian market than American firms.
Rewarding Reform: Congressional critics of the trade deal commonly cite violence against Colombian union leaders or human rights concerns as reasons not to approve it. However, under the leadership of President Uribe, Colombia is a changed country deserving continued support. In 2000, large swaths of Colombia were controlled by terrorist groups and drug trafficking cartels. Today, illegal activities, violence, and corruption have been greatly reduced. According to the International Labor Organization, "the labor situation in Colombia is positive." Human rights gains are also evident. According to retired General Barry McCaffrey, former U.S. Southern Command chief, "[T]he human rights situation has improved immeasurably during the President Uribe tenure." Colombia's murder rate in 2008 was the lowest in 15 years. The country is spending $42 million to provide security for union members, and the murder rate for union members is now below that for non-union members.
Strengthening a South American Ally: Colombia is the oldest democracy in South America and a strong security partner of the U.S. located in an often hostile neighborhood, as proven by recent developments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Colombia is especially critical to U.S. counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts. The trade agreement would deepen our economic ties with an ally, thus promoting peace, democracy and freedom in Latin America. It would provide a substantive and symbolic bulwark against a rising tide of left-wing radicalism on the continent. Wavering countries in the hemisphere will judge the reliability of the U.S. as a partner based on its treatment of Colombia under the signed trade deal.
Continued trade protectionism will only prolong the current economic downturn. While Democrats clamor for a second "stimulus" by Christmas, they should consider simply approving the already signed U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, providing a no-cost stimulus to the U.S. economy and creating jobs, while also strengthening a key security relationship in South America.