The Washington Post this week hailed the election of Juan Manuel Santos as Colombia’s president as a demonstration that “pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America.” The editorial, “Will Washington treat Colombia’s Santos as an ally?” also posed this very real concern:
[The] question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe.
The National Association of Manufacturers strongly agrees with the Post’s view: The manner in which outgoing President Alvaro Uribe has been treated by Congress with regard to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is absolutely unacceptable. President Uribe — who must be regarded as one of America’s strongest allies and friends — has waited patiently for more than three years for successive Congresses to approve the FTA. President Bush sent it up to Congress in 2008, only to have Speaker Pelosi block consideration of the agreement by changing the rules of Trade Promotion Authority.
Mr. Uribe will leave office with one of his signature goals incomplete –- the enactment of the U.S.-Colombia FTA. The election of Mr. Santos as Colombia’s President is a strong signal that President Uribe’s policies – which have made Colombia one of the fastest growing and most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere – will be continued. We can only hope that the current U.S. policy of inaction on all pending trade agreements, and the U.S.-Colombia agreement in particular – will NOT be continued.
Mr. Uribe, in his two terms as President of Colombia, was a driving force of reform across the board. His policies reinvigorated and expanded Colombia’s economy (it is now ranked as one of the best places to do business in Latin America), decimated the terrorist FARC rebellion across much of the country, improved the education and the social welfare systems, and dramatically reduced the kidnappings, murders and labor violence that have plagued Colombia. As the Post notes, he will leave office as one of the most successful Presidents in Latin American history. He also leaves a strong democracy, a vibrant civil society, and a strong foundation of hope for Mr. Santos to build upon.
What he also leaves behind is an pending trade agreement that will increase U.S. exports to Colombia by more than a billion dollars annually, according to U.S. ITC estimates. A trade agreement that will create thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs. A trade agreement that will level the playing field for U.S. products in Colombia, where we now face tariffs averaging 14 percent. In May 2007 as part of a bipartisan agreement, the U.S.-Colombia FTA had enforceable provisions on labor added to the text to address concerns Democratic lawmakers had about the agreement. Three years later, despite this groundbreaking change in U.S. trade policy, we are still waiting for Congress to take a vote and approve it. The votes for U.S.-Colombia (as with Panama and Korea) are there right now.
As Mr. Santos takes office in August, he will receive phone calls and telegrams with good wishes. As a welcome to the neighborhood present, quick action on the U.S.-Colombia FTA would be an awfully nice gesture – and a present to America’s manufacturers, farmers and service workers.