Guest Contributor William Krist: Implement the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

President Obama announced this weekend that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will finally go into force this coming May 15th, more than five years after the agreement was originally signed in November 2006 by U.S. and Colombian trade negotiators.  This agreement is very much in both our commercial and foreign policy interests.  We have kept this important friend waiting long enough and it is now time to move forward.

From a commercial perspective, Colombia, which is the third largest economy in South America, already has free trade agreements with some of our trade competitors including Canada and Mexico.  With average tariffs of 17.2% on agricultural goods and 11.8% on non-agricultural goods, U.S. exporters would be at a substantial disadvantage vis-à-vis exporters from these countries.  However, as a result of this agreement, Colombia will immediately eliminate duties on over 80 percent of imports from the U.S., putting us on a level playing field with these countries, and giving us preferred access vis-a-vis other countries, such as India and China, that do not have free trade agreements with Colombia.

Our foreign policy interests may be even more important than our commercial interests, and it is very important to us that Colombia grow economically.  Colombia is one of the major suppliers of cocaine to the U.S. and an important tool in curbing this trade is to provide alternative livelihoods to drug trafficking.  Additionally, Colombia has been facing an insurgency from the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the pro-American government needs our support in this fight.  Finally, Colombia is the sixth largest supplier of oil to the U.S.  and so far this year there have been more than 15 attacks by FARC and the drug cartels on the oil pipelines needed for exporting Colombia’s oil.

The AFL-CIO has been adamantly opposed to this agreement and has successfully demanded that Colombia reduce murders of labor organizers and implement improved labor standards.  The AFL-CIO continues to oppose implementation, arguing that improvements to date are inadequate.   AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notes that some two dozen trade union leaders were killed last year.  But this is only a small percent of the more than 15,000 murders.  The AFL-CIO’s concerns are important but should not hold up implementation.  Instead, the U.S. should vigorously use the dispute settlement mechanism in the agreement to press for continued improvements and should provide funding for building the capacity of Colombia’s government to reduce violence and improve labor standards.

Sources: White House, AFL-CIO

William K. Krist is a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  He is a former Senior Vice President of the American Electronics Association.  He has written extensively on trade, development, and the environment. Takanori Hayashi is a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

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One Response to Guest Contributor William Krist: Implement the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

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