China Loves Colombia – The USA?

Colombia Free Trade - the US Just Doesn't Get It!

In May 2004, the United States initiated negotiations with Colombia to establish a free trade agreement. Referred to as the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CTPA), negotiations were successful with the agreement being drafted and signed on November 22, 2006 by both the United States and Colombia, pending Congressional review and final approval by both Colombia and the U.S.

Colombia’s unanimous Congressional approval came in 2007, with a few minor amendments. Colombia’s Constitutional Court review concluded that the Agreement conformed to Colombia’s Constitution and signed their approval in July 2008. Since that time, the “agreement” has essentially been held hostage by the U.S. government, awaiting congressional approval … in other words, pending U.S. demands and “ransom”.

If and when implemented, the CTPA would eliminate duties on nearly 80% of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia. Additionally, 7% of U.S. exports would receive duty-free status within five years of execution. Ten years after implementation of the agreement, additional duties and fees would be dropped. Colombia would be able to join the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which would eliminate Colombia’s trade limitations on information technology products.

On the surface, this all sounds very one-sided, with Colombia being the primary beneficiary. In essence, Colombia’s influence and contribution to the U.S. economy seems somewhat insignificant, while the U.S. influence and contribution to the Colombian economy seems rather substantial. However, the fact of the matter is that BOTH the U.S. AND Colombia have much to gain by the approval of the CTPA. But even more importantly, it isbecoming clear that the U.S. has much to lose by NOT ratifying the CTPA.

“I strongly urge you to take up and approve the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Colombia FTA) immediately. I write representing a city where unemployment is approaching an alarming 13 percent during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Thousands of residents have not only lost their jobs, but their homes as well, devastating families across all socio-economic levels.” – Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado to federal elected officials.

Florida as an example, facing their worst ever unemployment rate, is particularly affected by the delay in CTPA approval. US Congressional approval of the CTPA could be instrumental in the creation of thousands of jobs at a time when the U.S. is in need of new jobs more than ever before. Colombia has been the second largest trade partner for the Miami customs unit, drawing nearly 6 billion dollars in trade in 2009. Additionally, more than 25% of all U.S. trade with Colombia passes through South Florida’s sea and air terminals. With tariffs and fees eliminated, as would be the case with approval of the CPTA, these figures would increase substantially. Now more than ever, international trade has become crucial to both state and local economies.

“Failure of the United States to ratify the free trade agreement with Colombia has cost it market share and its leadership role in the Andes.” – U.S. Senator Max Baucus, D-Montana

The United States is, or at least has been, Colombia’s number one trading partner for many years. In 2010, 42% of Colombia’s exports went TO the United States, and 25.5% of Colombia’s imports were supplied BY the United States. The second most significant trading partner for Colombia had been Venezuela; however, as of December 2009 China has filled that spot for both imports and exports. (…wake up America!) Other significant trading partners for Colombia have been Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, and Mexico.

Colombia has been openly acknowledged as a strong and supportive ally in the war on drugs and one of the United States’ most reliable allies in the region. In recent years, Colombia has accepted U.S. troops on Colombian military bases, has sent Colombian police officers and anti-drug agents to Afghanistan in support of U.S. troops, and has voted with the United States on most issues at the United Nations. Additionally, Colombia has shown remarkable progress with U.S. assistance in countering narcotic traffickers, reducing violence and demonstrating impressive success in promoting a model of open market democracy.

Despite these and other gestures, however, there has been no positive response on the free trade agreement from Washington. Failure to not only act immediately, but also to continue to push the CTPA to the end of the Congressional and Presidential priority list has sent a wrong signal and a very damaging message to our Latin American neighbor and friend and to the region as a whole. …and Colombia is beginning to lose her patience.

“We’re tired of lobbying for this, and we get the sense that CTPA approval doesn’t depend on what we do, but on the domestic situation in the United States,” said Jaime Concha, Executive Director of the Cosmetics and Hygiene Industries Chamber, which has exports of about $4 million per year. “This whole idea that we’re an ally of the United States doesn’t seem to help us much.”

Colombians are somewhat disillusioned with the United States,” says Enrique Santos Calderon, the president’s brother, and until recently managing editor and columnist of Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper. “There is a feeling that we need to take some distance, and stop making unilateral favors that are not reciprocated.”

There does indeed seem to be a deliberate foreign policy shift in Colombia. …and it has clearly been prompted by the U.S. failure to deliver on its “agreement” with Colombia, despite major diplomatic concessions and the successes and progress of Colombia.

There is something inherently wrong with this picture… I thought one of the primary aims of a “free trade agreement” was to reduce barriers and promote harmony. But instead, the U.S. delay in addressing this issue in a timely fashion has raised questions about U.S. leadership in the region and our reputation as a reliable partner.

With the main obstacle to ratification supposedly being Colombia’s poor record and ability to provide protection for labor leaders and to establish more humanitarian labor laws, our illustrious President’s recent antics are rather telling. Obama has stated that he would oppose the free trade agreement with Colombia “because the violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.” But in reality it seems that it was President Obama’s close relationship with anti-free trade U.S. labor unions that kept him from pushing more aggressively for ratification of the trade agreement.

With the faltering economy, high unemployment rates and Obama’s recent pledge to double U.S. exports within five years, there appears to be a “change of heart”… and approval of the CPTA has suddenly become a priority. “Simply put, export growth leads to job growth and economic growth,” Obama said in July, after announcing U.S. plans to move forward with the Colombia FTA (AND pledging to double exports!).

…how rapidly things change! Is there no “mockery” in Obama’s sudden reversal? What is the real motivation behind the continued governmental stall of CTPA approval?

You’ll have to excuse my lil’ pea-brain and lack of political knowledge here as I feel compelled to play devil’s advocate. …but do people really believe that stalling the approval of the CTPA really had anything to do with the U.S. government’s benevolence and concern for Colombian labor leaders and labor laws? If so, would that our “duly elected” officials show the same care and concern for their own constituents health, safety, and well-being as they do for those in the likes of Colombia then! But heh … let’s get real here…none of this is really about care and concern. It is about power and influence. It is about money and greed. It is about manipulation and control. It is more about a personal agenda than it is about a country’s ideologies. Such is modern politics.

The United States has long clung to the top of the rope as a world leader. There have been many superlatives used to describe the U.S.—the world’s greatest country; the world’s strongest economy; the world’s most powerful country; the world’s most free country; “…land of the free, home of the brave,” et al. But what people need to remember is that there have been many other great countries during the course of history—many great countries that no longer exist!

When a country (or a person!) becomes so full of themselves, so prideful that they can no longer recognize their own faults, then they are just setting the stage for their own downfall and destruction … nothing new here; even the Bible states that “pride comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Has the U.S. reached this point? I don’t think so. But recent events (in the last few years) point to the fact that the rope is beginning to slip through the U.S.’s grasp. And IF the U.S. intends to reclaim and hang on to her status as THE world leader, as THE world power, as THE shining example of democracy, then the U.S. needs to sit up and take notice.

The world is rapidly changing. For many years other countries have wanted to rub shoulders with the U.S., just by virtue of her being numero uno. Other countries have been willing to make concessions and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, just for the opportunity of association with the U.S. Other countries have wanted U.S. support, trade, recognition, and protection. …and they still do. But the tides are beginning to change. And unless the U.S. changes with the tides—unless the U.S. changes her attitude, her methods, and her motivations—the U.S. will be left behind. …it might happen quickly. …it might not happen for another 10, 20, or 30years. But, rest assured, it will happen.

Other countries are becoming less and less willing to yield to the strong-arm tactics of the U.S. Other countries are becoming less and less willing to compromise their own ideals and beliefs to gain the support of the U.S. And with the changing tides, there really is no need to buckle to the whims of the U.S. …there are new kids on the block—China, India, Brazil, Russia, and others—each experiencing their own socio-economic surge, each vying for the investment opportunities and international relationships once reserved almost solely for the U.S. …once again, it is time for the U.S. to sit up and take notice… time to adjust, adapt, and change … or die a slow, painful death.

With the CTPA as a case and point, the U.S. is following old practices … the old practice of giving a country encouragement by coming to an “agreement,” but then saying, “we will honor and approve this agreement WHEN you do this, this, and this.” … old tactics … tactics that are no longer as effective … tactics that incite animosity rather than friendship. And while the U.S. has been waiting for Colombia to jump through all of the hoops (and Colombia has indeed already jumped through many hoops!), one of “the new kids”—China—has tripled its share of the Colombian market, becoming Colombia’s number two import and export partner. Recently, China met with Colombia and proposed investing in a fast train paralleling the Panama Canal, linking the Pacific and Atlantic. …a concept that could have catastrophic effects not just on Panama, but on the entire U.S. shipping and transport industries … it’s time to wake up America.

As the old axiom goes, there comes a time when one needs to do something, even if it’s wrong. But the fact of the matter is there would be nothing wrong with approving the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. Enough is enough! So approve the CTPA! … allow the people of both the US and Colombia the freedom to pursue free trade, free commerce, and the ability to reap the rewards of prosperity and a thriving economy. But do not approve it because someone has jumped through all of the hoops … approve it because it is the right thing to do.

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