House okays Andean preferences — but leaders oppose Colombia FTA

Does this make sense? At the same time the House thinks it’s a good idea to provide Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia with duty-free access to the U.S. market for most of their exports, House leadership is opposing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Yesterday by voice vote the House approved a 10-month extension of the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA), which gives the four Andean countries preferential U.S. market access. For Colombia, according to the U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, that means the vast majority of its exports to the U.S. — 92 percent — enter the country with no tariffs.

The Colombia FTA, on the other hand, would make the trade preferences for that country permanent but would also eliminate or significantly reduce Colombia’s tariffs on most U.S. exports. In urging a positive Congressional vote on the trade agreement, Schwab said yesterday,

Now, we need Congress to work with us to open the other door — the door that allows American products to flow into Colombia on a reciprocal basis.

Today, 92 percent of U.S. imports from Colombia face absolutely no duty at all as a result of unilateral U.S. preference programs. At the same time, Colombia’s tariffs on most imports from the United States range from 5 to 15 percent with some as high as 35 percent.

So, what the trade agreement would basically do is provide the U.S. with the reciprocal trade benefits that Colombia already enjoys, albeit on a temporary basis.

However, a powerful campaign led by U.S. trade unions and backed by Congressional leaders is calling for rejection of the agreement because they contend Colombian President Alvaro Uribe isn’t doing enough to crack down on paramilitary murders of union leaders in Colombia. The figures, however, are stark in showing that since his first election in 2002 Uribe has made dramatic inroads in fighting violent crime, including homicides and kidnapping, demobilizing the paramilitary, and confronting terrorists.

Even though the FTA would benefit U.S. exports, the trade agreement faces significant odds in gaining approval in the current anti-trade political climate in the U.S. The Colombia FTA is the current target for inchoate yet widespread opposition to the benefits of free trade.