“While Chavez offers threats, we can offer Colombia enhanced trade”

Today, National Review’s editors endorse passage of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which, in addition to creating greater economic opportunities through increased commerce, would provide needed to support to America’s strongest ally in South America, currently besieged by Venezuela’s clown king and his Ecuadorian court jester — who are in turn being aided by some U.S. politicians’ cheap pandering.

While [Hugo] Chavez offers threats, we can offer Colombia enhanced trade — and it would be in our interest to do so. Most Colombian imports already enter the U.S. untaxed as a result of the Andean Trade Preferences Act. The new agreement will create business opportunities for American producers of machinery, plastics, and agricultural exports.

Democrats will raise the familiar objections that the agreement does not include sufficient protections for Colombian workers and the environment. These complaints do not withstand scrutiny. Last year, the Bush administration called the Democrats’ bluff and amended our pending trade agreements to include virtually every new labor and environmental standard the Democrats demanded. This compromise cleared the way for the passage of the Peru FTA in December. The Colombia FTA includes the same standards as the Peru deal. The only thing that’s changed is the date on the calendar: We’re now deeper into an election year in which the Democrats have decided that denouncing free trade is good for them in swing states.

Trade agreements should deal only with trade; labor and environmental standards are the province of each country’s lawmakers, not international agreements. Even so, the economic and diplomatic gains from the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement outweigh the drawbacks of including labor and environmental provisions, which, by seeking to “harmonize” regulation, can blunt countries’ comparative advantages.

But a qualified victory is still a victory. To scuttle the U.S.-Colombia trade deal — as well as the also-pending deals with Panama and South Korea — would be a defeat for economic liberty and prosperity. Worse, sinking the Colombia trade deal would signal to an important ally that America doesn’t care about it. That would be not only stupid, but immoral.