Crunch Time on Colombia Trade

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

Crunch Time on Colombia Trade


Byline: Barbara Bowie-Whitman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the last four months, Congress has done two good things on trade: adopting the Peru Trade Promotion Agreement and extending Andean Trade preferences through the end of this year.

These were necessary actions. But for them to be sufficient, Congress must take a third step. That step, offering new markets for U.S. farmers, workers and manufacturers, has become critical for Colombia in the face of new belligerence from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. It is time to approve the Trade Promotion Agreement with Colombia.

For 17 years, we have allowed duty-free entry of most Colombian goods into the United States under the Andean preference program that Congress has just renewed (93 percent of their exports to us are now duty-free.) Unfortunately, during those 17 years, U.S. goods have faced steep tariffs in Colombia.

The Andean preference program's 17 years have not been continuous. In 2002, the program lapsed for more than six months, creating havoc for Andean exporters to the United States. Eventually, we resolved those problems.

This experience, however, led Colombians to proposal that we exchange their one-way, time-limited, duty-free market access for a reciprocal and permanent agreement, which would give U.S. exporters duty-free access to Colombian markets. We began negotiations for such an agreement in 2004 and signed it in November 2006. We have until Dec. 31 to get that agreement approved and put into effect before the Andean preference extension runs out.

Electoral politics should not intrude: There is no logic in supporting one-way access to our markets while opposing a level playing field for U.S. farmers and workers. We established the preference program to support the war on drugs by opening U.S. markets to legal Colombian products. The new trade agreement will support American workers by opening new markets for our products.

A Democrat candidate for Congress told me she knows this agreement is good for the United States but cannot say so in a union hall in Ohio. Her fear of confronting constituents' misinformation would be well-guided by Edmund Burke's 18th-century admonition: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

Last month, the one-way Andean trade preferences were extended by unanimous consent in the Senate and by voice vote in the House. …

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