Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

The Economics of the Colombia and Panama FTAs Are Reason Enough to Approve Them

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 21, 2011

by Christopher Sabatini for Americas Quarterly Online, February 21st, 2011.

In contrast to the looming political fights over spending, healthcare repeal, and immigration, free trade could be a rare case where President Barack Obama will benefit from Republican control of the House of Representatives. After all, the pending Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements (FTAs) were originally negotiated by George W. Bush’s administration and then held back from being presented to Congress when the Democrats won a congressional majority.

This opportunity for bipartisan collaboration is particularly true of the Colombia deal which has been on the table since 2006, but only if the president is able to overcome the opposition of one of the most vocal and intense coalitions of anti-free trade groups ever, comprising U.S. labor unions and human rights groups.  Their collaboration on raising legitimate human and labor rights concerns in Colombia have created a ardent alliance that combines a historically grave (though much improving) human rights and labor rights situation with groups that traditionally have resisted free trade.  Both groups include themselves in the Democratic Party, with one of the most outspoken and strident of the groups, the AFL-CIO, constituting an important electoral base for the President in his 2012 reelection bid.  Unfortunately, advocates—including moderate Democrats and seasoned policymakers — of the deal have been making the wrong argument to this powerful constituency, focusing on Colombia’s improvements in human rights and strategic importance rather than the very real benefits this deal will have for American workers and manufacturers.

This is not to say that maintaining the U.S.-Colombia relationship isn’t important. Colombia has been a steadfast ally in its region, surrounded by the anti-institutional, anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and the voluble (though still willing to cooperate with the U.S. on some fronts) Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. (continue reading… )

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