• The Colombia FTA is an Economic Stimulus that Doesn’t Cost $25 Billion

    November 20, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    The election campaign has ended, but Commerce Secretary Gutierrez is still on the campaign trail for the Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA). This week, he was on the hustings at the Small Business Administration trade symposium.  The message: we must pass the Colombia free-trade agreement “with the same sense of urgency that we passed a stimulus package several months ago.” He’s right.

    And these small businesses owners certainly understand that our economy would benefit. Approximately 10,000 U.S. companies export to Colombia, and of that about 8,500 are small and medium-sized firms—the engine for economic growth in the United States. With this FTA in place, the U.S. trade relationship with Colombia would shift from one of unilateral preferences granted to Colombia through the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act to a relationship where U.S. industry enjoys the same benefits already granted to Colombia. The Colombian market would open on a reciprocal basis to U.S. goods, allowing 80 percent of U.S. products to immediately enter Colombia duty-free. Without an FTA, the high tariffs levied on U.S. products means that a Caterpillar truck, for example, faces more than $200,000 in taxes when sold in Colombia. Clearly, this is not good for either country.

    In these unsettling economic times, it is mystifying how Congress could shy away from passing an agreement that—combined with the already-in-place Peru FTA—would increase U.S. farm exports by $1.39 billion and provide over 18,000 new jobs.

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    Tags: Colombia, Free Trade, Uribe, Economic Stimulus

  • Protecting Journalists in Weak States

    November 17, 2008

    by Christopher Sabatini

    This week brought another tragic murder of a journalist in Mexico.  Armando Rodriguez was a well-known crime editor for El Diario in the violence-ridden, Mexican border-town of Ciudad Juarez. The hit (conducted while he was waiting to take his daughter to school, by gunmen who sped off) prompted strong condemnations by international NGOs and the OAS Inter-American Commission's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

    Yet despite the international outrage at the murder of a journalist doing his job, this isn't an easy case. We can safely assume that the murder was committed by extra-governmental groups--either narcotraffickers or corrupt police or military acting unofficially. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this is the fifth murder or Mexican journalist. The vast majority of such cases go unsolved.

    The problem is what can be done to protect journalists when the state is itself attempting to regain control over the country. Much of the traditional human rights perspective has been based on protecting journalists and civil society from the government. But this is something more sinister and complex: how do you protect journalists from lawless groups that the government (presumably) is trying to control itself?

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Mexico, Security, Obama, Narcotics

  • Here’s How We Can Move Forward Quickly on the Pending Trade Agreements

    November 10, 2008

    by Eric Farnsworth

    In my AQ article discussing the hemispheric agenda from the Washington perspective, I noted that expanded trade with the United States continues to be a critical driver of hemispheric development, even more so in a period of global economic stress.  Latin American nations enjoying FTA’s with the United States have put them to very good effect.  It’s my hope that the Colombia and Panama agreements would be taken up and passed shortly by Congress so that those two critical allies will also be able to build their economies more effectively during difficult economic times. 

    A vote on both agreements in the lame-duck, though perhaps unlikely, has always seemed to me to be the appropriate way to move them in a manner consistent with the political realities that I refer to in my AQ piece.  Panama is non-controversial and could probably move in any event, but if this window is missed for Colombia, there aren’t too many realistic scenarios that would achieve a vote early in the next Administration, particularly as a stand alone bill.  Alternatively, it’s conceivable that the new Administration could ask for additional fixes from Colombia before submitting the agreement to Congress for a vote.  This would take some months to conclude, assuming Colombia goes for it, and would push back potential ratification further.  But we also have to remember that that has already been done once, and Colombia already adopted changes in good faith that were made at the behest of the Congressional majority. 

    Here’s my suggestion for the many Democrats and Republicans who are looking for a plausible path forward: vote in the lame duck, pass it, and make entry into force contingent on various measures that the Government of Colombia would agree to take on—transparency, human rights, and other matters as appropriate, along with the routine commercial issues that are always addressed prior to entry into force of agreements. 

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    Tags: Colombia, Panama, Free Trade

  • How Did Immigrant-Related Ballot Measures Fare on Tuesday?

    November 6, 2008

    by Jason Marczak

    The 2008 election results gave a decisive victory to the Democrats. At last count, President-elect Obama had 364 electoral votes to Sen. John McCain’s 163 and won by the popular vote by 7 percent. The Democrats also picked up six Senate seats (Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota have yet to be called) and at least 18 House seats. But what about those ever-famous ballot initiatives?

    Back in the 2006 election, anti-immigrant ballot initiatives were the cause du jour in the West. Conservatives hoped they would help get out the base. Arizona and Colorado were the center of the storm. Four measures (Propositions 100, 102, 103, and 300) passed in Arizona, each with over 70 percent of the vote, and the two Colorado proposals (Referendums H and K) squeaked through with just over 50 percent supporting each. The roots for these initiatives can be traced back to California’s landmark Proposition 187, which in 1994 was the first public backlash against undocumented immigrants at the ballot box. Yes, it passed, but the courts did thankfully rule it unconstitutional.

    This year, Missouri and Oregon joined Arizona in proposing initiatives that would affect immigrants. The results were mixed. Oregon’s Ballot Measure 58 would  have limited the use of foreign-language instruction in public schools. It was not endorsed by any major state newspaper, and 63 percent of citizens joined together in striking it down. Schools can now breathe a sigh of relief and continue to teach English as needed.

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    Tags: Immigration, Elections

  • Does the Summit of the Americas Process Really Matter Anymore?

    November 3, 2008

    by Christopher Sabatini

    I applauded the initiation of Summit of the Americas Process in Miami 1994 and the subsequent meetings in Santiago and Quebec, the latter in many ways reflecting the high-water mark of inter-American cooperation. But now with the approaching April 2009 Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago, I can’t help wonder: what’s the point?  In reflecting on the distortion in the coverage of the 2005 process during the Mar del Plata, the growing divisions over free trade and the accumulation of declarations and mandates with each summit (each one seemingly having less to do with the original intent than the previous) I can’t help wondering if the whole thing has outlived its usefulness. Sure, I understand (and still sympathize) with the initial goals of the first—and believe that even the mere act of assembling the elected presidents from the 34 countries (for most it will be the first time they’ve met our new U.S. President-elect) is worthy. And yes, anything that gets the U.S. president focused on the region is important. 

    Look, though, at the sediment of mandates that have piled up over the last four full summits. They range from everything from the original stated goals (trade and democracy) to other more domestic issues (education spending and municipal administration). The latter make great international talking points, but quite frankly I don’t know what they are doing on a summit agenda if the skeletal body that is responsible for managing the process(SIRG) isn’t vested with the authority to make them mandates (as they’re referred to in the statements and the website). In fact, the insistence of referring to declarations as mandates risks only diluting the meaning of the word. Is it a mandate if no one has the authority to enforce compliance with benchmarks?  

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    Tags: Summit of the Americas, Trinidad and Tobago


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