Alvaro Uribe Archives - Shopfloor

After Colombia Elections, Follow Good Wishes With Trade Pact

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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.

Colombia Again Embraces Markets, Trade; So Should Congress

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Colombia held its runoff election for president on Sunday, and voters gave 69 percent of the vote to Juan Manuel Santos, the 58-year old former defense minister who leadership helped bring the narco-terrorist guerilla war under control while strengthening protections for human rights. Santos campaigned on a free-market platform that promised a continuation of the economic policies of President Alvaro Uribe.The Wall Street Journal editorializes, “Colombia Speaks“:

This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

The Washington Post also asks editorially, “Will Washington treat Colombia’s Santos as an ally?

Ratification of the free-trade agreement would serve the administration’s stated goal of boosting U.S. exports while bolstering a nation that could be an anchor for democracy and political moderation in the region. It would also allow the administration and Congress to demonstrate that friends of the United States will be supported and not scorned in Washington.

Inaction on Free Trade Agreements is Costing U.S. Jobs

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A raft of reports appeared this week on the failure of the U.S. Congress to move on free trade agreements. Jobs are supposed to be an economic and political priority, right?

Christian Science Monitor, “US losing jobs as free trade agreement languishes, Colombia says“:

Foreign trading partners who have had to endure the American view that a free-trade agreement with the United States is worth waiting for have a message for the US: Your glacially slow pace of ratifying FTAs is costing you exports, and jobs.

The latest warnings from a would-be free-trade partner come from Colombia. Its free-trade agreement with the US has languished since 2006, awaiting congressional approval.

Colombia’s minister of trade and tourism, Luis Plata, has been in Washington this week to bring these facts to bear (again, via CSM):

  • US exports to Colombia are falling.
  • Neighbors in the hemisphere – from Canada to Brazil and Argentina – are happily taking up the slack.
  • Once market share is lost, experience shows, it becomes difficult to regain.

Reuters’ Doug Palmer also has the story, “Uribe pushes for U.S. trade vote before leaving office.”

Colombia’s pending trade agreement should enjoy broad respect and support not just because its aids U.S. exporters, but because it is a democracy and U.S. ally that has assiduously fought terrorism and international drug trafficking. It’s an “exporter of security,” as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently noted.

See also The Boston Globe, “Colombia offers lessons for US aid efforts elsewhere“:

With billions of dollars in military and development aid from the United States, Colombia’s image as one of the most dangerous destinations is fading. And now, the Obama administration is hoping to transfer key elements of Colombia’s strategy to other nations in the region struggling with drug violence, lawlessness, and crushing poverty.


CODEL to Colombia: Let’s Get Moving on Free Trade Pact

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Haven’t seen this elsewhere. From Colombia Reports, “Uribe to meet US congressmen to speed up FTA approval”:

President Uribe announced that he is meeting U.S. congressmen on Saturday, to request the urgent adoption of the pending free trade agreement.

“I have a meeting on Saturday with a group of parliamentarians from the United States and I will say with all honesty and with all solidarity that we need the rapid adoption of this agreement,” Uribe stated, as reported by Colombian media.

Uribe reiterated that there was no reason to delay the agreement, and that its passage would allow Colombia to take the lead in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.

Uribe stressed that Colombia remains in search of new markets, and is awaiting approval of an FTA with Canada.

The NAM has a website devoted to the pending U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which would reduce the current average 14 percent tariffs on U.S. products shipped to Colombia.

On the Third Anniversary of U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

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More commentary marking the third anniversary of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement:

As the President said in his Saturday’s radio address:

This recession has taught us that we can’t return to a situation where America’s economic growth is fueled by consumers who take on more and more debt.  In order to keep growing, we need to spend less, save more, and get our federal deficit under control.  We also need to place a greater emphasis on exports that we can build, produce, and sell to other nations – exports that can help create new jobs at home and raise living standards throughout the world.

Exactly so. President Obama has scheduled a White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth for December 3. What a great opportunity to follow the words with action, on that day submitting the pending free trade agreement with Colombia to Congress and demanding its enactment.

Temporizing on Trade

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From President Obama’s joint news conference Monday with Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe. President Obama:

We discussed, most prominently, the interests of both countries in moving forward on a free trade agreement.  This is something that has been discussed for quite some time.  I have instructed Ambassador Kirk, our United States Trade Representative, to begin working closely with President Uribe’s team on how we can proceed on a free trade agreement.  There are obvious difficulties involved in the process and there remains work to do, but I’m confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States.

Indeed it IS something that has been discussed for quite some time. At some point, soon, the President will need to say, “I call on Congress to enact the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” or the discussions will go on ad infinitum.

Delay might be a defensible strategy if the goal is to satisfy U.S. political constituencies like organized labor, but it does nothing for the U.S. exports and the economy. In the meantime, other countries like Canada will gain market share in Colombia at U.S. expense.

President Obama and Latin American Leaders

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With all the fuss about Venezuela’s caudillo Hugo Chavez greeting to President Obama at the Summit of the Americas, it’s worth noting that Colombia’s president, a believer in democracy and free markets, also met with President Obama. From Bloomberg:

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he talked with Obama at the summit about a U.S. trade agreement that has been stalled by Obama’s fellow Democrats in Congress and the future of Plan Colombia, the country’s anti-narcotics program funded with more than $600 million a year in U.S. aid.

“We found a great willingness to advance our bilateral agenda,” Uribe said April 18.

And President Obama mentioned Presidente Uribe in passing in his statement and news conference.

So that was good. Was there more? Not that we saw in an admittedly undisciplined weekend review of the news, at least in the U.S.-based media.

This Colombian English-language website, Colombian Reports, offered more detail in the column, “Uribe’s unplanned power lunch with Obama,” which notes that President Obama eschewed all bilateral meetings.

Uribe seemed to have lost his chance for a one-on-one and rather ended up scheduled to meet with Obama at the same time as the other South American presidents. Once again, Chávez took the spotlight while Uribe sat calmly.

But Colombia and the United States had a thing or two to discuss (think Plan Colombia, Free Trade Agreement, still being BFFs). Uribe, in what only seems to be the most overt foreign policy expression of his paisa drive, ended up sitting right next to Obama during a lunch amongst all of the nations’ leaders.

By the end of a 45-minute one-on-one conversation, Uribe had gotten what he wanted. He received his first invitation to Washington, effective immediately, and as if that weren’t enough, he got Obama to promise to visit Colombia.

Now we’re talking.

One hopes more than even talking.

UPDATE (11:45 a.m.): Yes, indeed. After the NAM’s international folks reported the weekend saw significant developments vis a vis Colombia, we went back and found this report: “Obama Tells Official to Resolve Colombian Trade-Pact Obstacles“: “President Barack Obama has ordered his top trade official to work with Colombia to resolve obstacles preventing completion a U.S. free-trade agreement with the South American country.” So that’s good and good.

Reaffirming Trade, Prosperity, Democracy in Colombia

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  • CTV, “Canada signs free-trade agreement with Colombia“: “Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed a free trade agreement between the two countries while at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Lima Friday.”


  • Japan Economic Newswire, “Japan, Colombia to start talks on investment pact“: “Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe agreed Saturday to launch talks on a treaty to increase protection of their bilateral investments, a Japanese official said.”


  • AFP, “Bush asks US to look after ‘good friend’ Uribe“: “‘He is a strong leader. He’s a good friend. And our Congress and our government must never turn our back on a friend like Uribe,’ Bush said during a speech at an APEC summit in Lima that was his last foreign trip as US leader.”


  • The Oregonian, “Keep the Faith with Colombia“: “The United States, and especially a trade-dependent state like Oregon, which sent more than $27 million in goods to Colombia last year, should welcome an improvement in the climate for selling goods to Colombia. And it should reward a friendly, effective government in Colombia for its support for American interests in South America.”


“Who can say there’s a dictatorship in Venezuela?” Chavez said, in a jab at his many critics.

“A new stage is beginning. For me, as the leader of the Venezuelan socialist project, the people are telling me: ‘Chavez, keep on the same path,'” the anti-US leader said.

The polls were seen as a test for Chavez and his drive for nationalization and social projects, amid growing discontent over escalating crime, corruption and inflation.



One More Chance: Enact the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Deal

By | Trade | One Comment

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement apparently came up in the meeting between President-Elect Obama and President Bush, and now the political chatterers are arguing about who’s spinning what. ¡Tonterías!

The real, fundamental issue is whether Congress should approve the agreement. Reacting to this week’s discussions, editorialists again make the case for the economic and foreign policy benefits of passing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Washington Post, “Pass the Pact“:

The main economic effect of the trade agreement would be to enable U.S. producers — automakers included — to export to Colombia tariff-free. This would simply level the playing field, because 90 percent of Colombian goods already arrive in the United States tariff-free under temporary trade preferences that Congress recently renewed. With U.S. goods exports to Colombia totaling over $8 billion per year, the pact offers a nifty dose of stimulus for U.S. businesses and workers. While America stalls, Europe moves: The European Commission announced yesterday that it wants to start free-trade talks with Bogota. Why would Democrats need any deals or inducements to pass a measure that would promote U.S. foreign policy interests and create American jobs?

Los Angeles Times, “Seal the deal on Colombian trade pact“:

Resistance to the pact by labor unions and human rights organizations, both here and in Colombia, remains stiff. And with an incoming Democratic administration, the deal faces significant new obstacles. But the gamesmanship between Democrats and Republicans, unions and rights groups should not obscure one fact: The agreement is good for Colombia and good for the United States.

The pact would balance and normalize a trade relationship that is now one-way. Colombia has almost unfettered access to U.S. markets — 91% of its goods enter duty free — but U.S. products face tariffs of up to 35%. Each Caterpillar truck sold in Colombia, for example, is taxed more than $200,000. This is a hindrance to prosperity for both countries. Currently, about 9,000 U.S. businesses export to Colombia, and were this deal passed, that number would skyrocket.

Diario Las Americas, “Colombia Deserves the Ratification of the Free Trade Agreement“:

It is very difficult to understand how it is possible that the U.S. Congress and its Democratic majority have maintained a strong resistance against ratifying the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia. And it is difficult to understand this position from the fundamental point of view that Colombia, as a country and as a government, is an ally of the American government and people. The pretext that there are human rights violations in Colombia and that there is not enough protection for the lives of the trade unionists cannot stand an analysis in view of what has been happening in that country for the last several years with a President who observes an exemplary democratic conduct.

Wall Street Journal, “Obama’s Lame Duck Opportunity“:

Mr. Obama ran with union backing but has given conflicting signals about his trade priorities. He says he wants to unilaterally rewrite Nafta if Mexico and Canada decline to go along, yet he says he’s not a protectionist. Mr. Obama has also said that “now is a good time for us to set politics aside for a while and think practically about what will actually work to move the economy forward . . .” With the global economy in recession, and investors staging a capital strike, an Obama nod to approving the Colombian FTA would send a signal of reassurance around the world.

A Lame-Duck Session Will Be So Liberating

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From Reuters:

WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Colombia President Alvaro Uribe said on Friday that he hoped U.S. lawmakers would quickly approve a bilateral free-trade agreement signed two years ago and stalled in Congress for months.

‘We are hopeful that we can at any moment have the approval of the U.S. Congress of the Colombia free-trade agreement,’ Uribe said in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Uribe acknowledged, in response to a question, that he talked by telephone on Thursday with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who has been opposed to the Colombia pact.

‘It was a constructive telephone conversation,’ Uribe said, adding he needed to be prudent in answering whether Obama indicated he would be open to a vote on the pact this year.

‘I know how difficult it is to talk about politics in times of hot politics,’ Uribe said.

Congress’ handling of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, in particular the House leadership’s abandonment of ordered debate and voting, has been a low moment in congressional history, but a high point for the exercise of brute political force by organized labor. Let’s hope the equation balances out some in a post-election session.