Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Still Treading Water

Timing is everything, and I wonder how much more water the pending free trade agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the US must tread before its ratification by the US congress. And today’s political waters are shark-infested, indeed. Signed and ratified just before Thanksgiving 2006, as reported in Wall Street Journal, the FTA yet remains a bargaining chip in today’s contentious partisan politics.

Pay heed in the coming week to news coverage of the 29 June meeting between Presidents Obama and Uribe. We will see our president test his political moxy, urging President Uribe and proponents of the FTA to keep their heads above water while our polarized house and senate duke it out over vital economic issues. Here’s where the moxy comes in: as he holds back the lifesaver, he will at the same time ask if the US can base its narco-surveillance operations at a Colombian airbase, regardless of FTA ratification or defeat.

The irony? The FTA’s opponents don’t gain anything by blocking its passage except a notable partisan victory. To be sure, the Colombian FTA has “kick me” painted on its backside, a carry-forward from the Bush administration and now held at arm’s length, noses plugged, by the house and senate majority leaders. The influence of AFL-CIO and the debt owed to them by the new president cannot be underestimated in this skirmish.

But the fact remains that U.S. markets are already open to Colombian goods, under the Andean trade preferences act. This new FTA would open Colombian markets to U.S. exports, which currently face tariffs as high as 35 percent and are losing market to EU and Asian competitors. When that field is leveled, American exporters will realize increased revenue in Colombia through more competitively priced goods and services, which helps counter our ballooning trade deficit, ensures employment for millions of Americans, and of course contributes to the business tax base to help reverse state and federal deficits.

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