Colombia, Trade, Freedom and Openness

By July 3, 2008General, Trade

Chris Padilla, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Trade, spoke at a bloggers luncheon the Heritage Foundation held on Tuesday, giving an excellent presentation on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Breaking news on the lead paint litigation front prevented immediate comment, but he made such a strong case we wanted to make sure it got a mention.

The case for the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement stands on economic arguments alone, certainly. Padilla gave his “grocery bag” presentation, using products to demonstrate the inconsistencies of the current trade relationship, under which most Colombian products already enter the U.S. market dutyfree.

Paraphrasing (actually cadging from an earlier speech):

  • This can of Colombian coffee comes into the United States duty-free.  But this bottle of Pepsi, made in the USA, pays a stiff 20% tax when sold in Colombia. 
  • These beautiful Colombian flowers – a major Colombian export – come into our market and pay zero tariffs.  But this U.S.-made fertilizer, which helps those flowers grow, is charged up to 15% when exported to Colombia.
  • This Pennsylvania apple pays a 15 percent tariff when sold in Colombia.  Meanwhile, this Colombian banana enters the United States duty-free. 

But given events that have happened since Padilla’s remarks, we’ll highlight his observations about the national security considerations. The portion of his remarks are available here as an .mp3 file, and a longer transcript is here. Two excerpts:

President Uribe enjoys nearly an 80 percent approval rating in his country. This is a close ally of the United States and they are winning this battle against terrorism in Colombia with a lot of help from the United States…A lot of investment from the United States through the Plan Colombia, which has been a program of foreign assistance as well as some military training, helicopters and other things. This is, in many ways, a model for what we hope we could see in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the defeat of a domestic terrorist insurgency through adherence to principles like democracy and free markets.


The debate about Colombia is an important litmus test, in many ways, for whether America is going to remain committed to the policies of openness, the basic idea that we are better as a society because we are open to foreign trade and investment. Unfortunately, this agreement has not received even the courtesy of a hearing. The congressional leadership have turned their back on an ally. I think that’s no way to treat an ally, and certainly, it’s no way to treat our own farmers, ranchers and small businesses who could benefit.



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