Canada Dares, Where the U.S. Fears to Tread

By July 16, 2007Trade

As Congress delays on free trade agreements, U.S. competitors are filling the breach. Canada, for one.

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Canada started trade talks with Colombia on Monday and pledged full support for President Alvaro Uribe, who has seen his key bilateral relationship with the United States bog down in a scandal over human rights.

In a thinly veiled slap at U.S. congressional Democrats who oppose a trade deal with Colombia until the country’s rights record improves, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a trip to Bogota to present himself as a steadier ally.

“We are not going to say fix all your social, political and human rights problems and only then will we engage in trade relations with you. That’s a ridiculous position,” Harper said in a media conference with Uribe at his side.

Ouch. You can be sure those remarks were widely reported in Colombia. Canada is also starting trade talks with Peru (story here).

Meanwhile, in the Wall Street Journal, the former Spanish prime minister, José María Aznar, takes the United States to task for undermining Colombia’s movement toward democracy. Colombia Needs Trade:

Colombia also has to strive to reduce peasant dependency on growing coca crops by fostering economic development. Integrating Colombia into the world economy will boost economic growth and serve to consolidate democratic capitalism. This is why it is unbearably cynical for U.S. politicians to cite the failings of the Colombian democracy as an excuse to kill the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

As a former head of government, I am perplexed as to how blocking the FTA from Washington could possibly make sense. Is it worth lashing out at the Colombian people, damaging U.S. security interests and handing a victory to the FARC simply to punish Mr. Bush? Does the U.S. wish to push Colombia toward Mr. Chávez?

If Western values are to prevail in Latin America against terror and antidemocratic authoritarianism, Europe and the U.S. must adopt a clear strategy of supporting democratic capitalism. Closing the door on Colombia, either on the security front or on trade, will strike at the very heart of the cause for freedom in Latin America.

The NAM’s fact sheet on the Latin American free trade agreements is here in .pdf format. Key fact: Between 85 and 95 percent of U.S. manufactured goods exports to Panama, Peru and Colombia will become duty-free upon entry into force of the agreements.

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