From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
U.S.-Colombia FTA Takes Effect
Approved by U.S. Congress in October 2011, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement was implemented at 1 a.m. on May 15. Infolatam reports that 4,200 boxes of flowers were the first Colombian products to enter the United States under the agreement. Colombia’s Portafolio reports on the enthusiasm of Colombian producers to reach new markets in the United States. “We’re preparing ourselves with new technology and adapting our production plants,” says Finance Manager Gloria Suárez of Ritchi, a garment producer. “We’re excited for this important moment to reach a market as large as the United States.”
Read more about the October 2011 approval of the U.S.-Colombia FTA in an AS/COA Congressional Update.
In an AQ blog post, COA’s Eric Farnsworth reflects on the trade pact’s implementation and about what should come next in U.S.-Latin American relations.
Bomb Targets Former Colombian Minister in Bogota
A bomb exploded in central Bogota yesterday, killing two and injuring 54. Police say the target was former Colombian Interior Minister Fernando Londoño Hoyos, who served in ex-President Álvaro Uribe’s administration and was a fierce opponent of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The government believes the FARC carried out the attack.
Ministers Resign after Botched Hostage Rescue in Peru
Peruvian Defense Minister Alberto Otarola and Interior Minister Daniel Lozada resigned this week over the handling of last month’s rescue mission to free 36 gas pipeline workers from the Shining Path guerillas. The purpose of that mission, which cost the lives of nine Peruvian security force members, was called into question when the workers said the insurgents released the hostages beforehand, reports InsightCrime.
Today marks the date of entry into force of the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). What a long, strange trip it’s been since the agreement was signed in 2006. The rear-guard action of those opposed to trade generally, those opposed to the United States in Latin America specifically, and those who sought to use the agreement as leverage to promote narrower special interests has been fierce. In the end, however, it became politically untenable and strategically short-sighted to continue to deny both Colombian as well as U.S. citizens the benefits of the trade agreement, and, as a result, today marks the beginning of a new chapter in U.S.-Colombian relations.
Nonetheless, amid well-deserved celebrations within the trade community, we should not lose sight of the fact that the current moment is just the next step. It is a critically important step, to be sure, one that should have occurred years ago, and one that, by its absence, held up much of the rest of the hemispheric agenda for the past several years. It is important that the U.S.-Colombia FTA be seen as a tool for the improvement of the lives of people in both nations, and that, together, we work toward that outcome through close attention to the implementation process. And it is equally important that the United States and Colombia begin now to work toward a broader trade agenda, one that would bring Colombia as a Pacific nation into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum as well as near-term participation in negotiations to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Colombia should also be invited to join the G20 as a permanent member, and, once all standards have been adequately met, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), too.
Colombia is a nation on the move, and an engaged, strategically-minded United States would seek to capitalize quickly on the success of the bilateral FTA by working with others to bring Colombia into the broader global trade and investment architecture. Colombia has a well-established and hard-earned record of success, and it has proven over the years to be a close friend of the United States. At a time when we need allies globally, we should do what we can to promote Colombia’s broader ambitions, consistent with our own interests, just as we are doing with nations outside this hemisphere.
The White House announced yesterday that a major hurdle had been cleared for bringing the free-trade agreements (FTAs) signed with Colombia, Panama and South Korea more than five years ago to Congress for a vote. This happened after the administration reached an agreement with House Republicans about Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA)—the program that helps American workers who have lost their jobs to overseas trade and increased competition return to work.
TAA was last in the spotlight in February of this year when amendments enacted in 2009 to expand the program expired. A vote to extend those changes was postponed in February because Republicans questioned the cost of the bill, arguing that the program would cost $620 million for the remainder of 2011 and $6.5 billion over the next 10 years. On the other hand, Democrats insist that trade agreements cannot be discussed before there is a decision on the benefits program. Last year $975,320,800 in federal funds was allocated to states under the TAA program, and 227,882 U.S. workers received TAA benefits and services.
A sign that the FTAs may be on their way to approval is the decision by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee, to hold a “mock” markup of the draft implementing bills of the three FTAs tomorrow. In addition to the FTAs and TAA, the session will cover the extension of the Generalized System of Preferences and Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). As the Finance Committee explained in a press release yesterday, “these programs lower costs for U.S. manufacturers importing from developing countries and give developing countries duty-free access to the U.S. market for certain products.”
Given that the FTAs were submitted under fast-track procedures—which at the time allowed former President George W. Bush to negotiate agreements that Congress could merely approve or disapprove—mock markups are the only opportunity legislators have to suggest amendments to the administration’s proposals.
Despite evidence demonstrating the positive economic impact the FTAs with Colombia and Panama would have on the U.S. economy, a difficult political environment has hindered their passage. Before TAA expired, debate over the FTAs was stalled on the basis of unionists’ rights in Colombia—a powerful argument at the time of the 2008 presidential elections.