Sunday marked the third anniversary of the signing of a free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. It is an embarrassment to our great nation that this agreement with an important Latin American ally still sits on the shelf three years later, a victim of congressional trade politics.
As my Cato colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo and I argued in a 2008 Free Trade Bulletin, and as I wrote in a more recent op-ed, the FTA with Colombia is a win-win for Americans. It fully opens the Colombian market and its 44 million pro-American consumers to our exports, while deepening our ties with one of our most dependable allies in the Western Hemisphere.
The AFL-CIO and other opponents of the agreement demand that Colombia further reduce violence against trade unionist before approval can be considered, and the president and Democratic congressional leaders have dutifully agreed. Never mind that the number of trade union members murdered in traditionally violent Colombia has declined dramatically under President Alvaro Uribe. Congress and the administration keep moving the goal posts, much to the frustration of the Colombian government.
Meanwhile, since the agreement was signed, U.S. companies have paid $2.3 billion in unnecessary duties, according to the “Colombia Tariff Ticker” sponsored by the Latin America Trade Coalition. On the foreign policy front, Colombia faces continued threats from the Marxist FARC guerrilla movement and its anti-American neighbor, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Refusing to enact the trade agreement with Colombia only reinforces suspicions in Latin America that the U.S. government is unreliable.