The dance has been most curious. In recent days numerous Administration officials have been ratcheting up the rhetoric about formally sending the Colombia FTA to the Hill and forcing a vote — without actually stepping over the line and sending it. For its part, the Hill leadership has continued to either avoid the issue or declare the Agreement inadequate — without specifically saying what more is needed. Meanwhile, recent cross-border raiding in the Andes has upped the stakes on the ground, heightening the imperative for some kind of action.
As far as NEMA and many other industry groups are concerned, this FTAs merits are obvious. 92% of Colombias exports already have duty-free access to the U.S., so the deal is really about reciprocally opening the Colombian market with which the U.S. electrical equipment industry already runs a significant surplus.
Yes, the country has a violent legacy, but President Uribe and our Plan Colombia have made it a considerably better country. Further, the economic development fostered by this FTA which features several labor and environmental concessions by the U.S. Administration — would help continue the trend in the right direction.
Some may argue that this Agreement should be opposed on labor grounds, but no lives will be saved by voting against, and those same voices raised no objections when Congress voted to maintain Colombias duty-free preferences (i.e., one-way market access to the U.S.) a few weeks ago.
Add in the increasingly apparent truth that Hugo Chavez is throwing his petro-dollars at supporting the FARC as well as any number of anti-U.S. players throughout this Hemisphere and the need to support our arguably best friend in the region becomes evident.
(Colombia is also one of the Latin American nations to which NEMA is reaching out as part of our current joint initiative with the U.S. Commerce Department, and Gustavo Dominguez from our Mexico office will be visiting traveling there later this spring.)
So what will happen in Washington? Anyone watching our presidential campaign which is just about everyone worldwide knows that the Dems want a trade vote like the plague. But, truth be told, if forced to vote despite the U.S. labor movements very intense opposition — just enough might come around to admitting this FTAs merits.
On the other hand, yes, the Administration could send the FTA up to the Hill on its own, but probably realizes that an already heavy lift would be a lot less difficult if Hill leaders came to the table first. Seen this way, the recent bluster has been meant to force the Leaderships hand and in fact just yesterday Speaker Pelosi ventured that the FTA could move if a new Trade Adjustment Assistance (for workers who lose their jobs due to trade) bill is allowed go as well. But lets not forget that, even when she has endorsed recent trade agreements the Oman and Peru FTA deals comes to mind — the final margins of victory have still been extraordinarily narrow.
In short, its shaping up to be an awfully fun spring.