Liveblogging the bloggers’ call with Ambassador Charles Shapiro on the Colombia Free Trade agreement

Ambassador Charles Shapiro is leading the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Task Force for the Free Trade Agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama.

Ambassador Shapiro opened by saying that the question he always gets is, “why would anyone oppose the agreement?” This agreement is in the interest of Colombia, of the US, and in our national security interest, so he finds that question hard to explain.

The question and answer session:
Monica Showalter of IBD: “After this administration is over & there’s a new president, the pact will actually be dead. Is that true?”
Ambassador Shapiro: The agreement stands the way it is. Our lawyers believe that what will happen is that, since the agreement has been introduced in this section of Congress, but if it was reintroduced in the next Congress it would enter under the trade promotion authority and would be no time table and would be open to amendment.
The Panama agreement, if sent to Congress, the fast track rules would apply.

Red State: “What can practically be done in this session of Congress?”
AS: Senate Finance committee is trying to link the two: trade assistance and the trade agreement. In the House they want the trade adjustment assistance through.

Jim Hoft: “Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that if Colombia makes any progress, she would recommend opening the discussion. Any comment?”
AS: What she’s doing is not closing the door but is she saying that it’d be considered, then there’s no commitment there. Colombia’s made progress and continues to make progress. Day in and day out progress. To build on that, to help, passing the agreement would add to the progress.
He won’t criticize the 1st branch of government, but the indicators of violence in Colombia are down and what you really see in Colombia lately – and the hostage rescue – is an absolute change in the people’s sense of optimism and pride in Colombia. Colombians are moving back and businesses are coming in.

Kevin Sullivan, RCP: “The deal seems like a no-brainer on the surface. Is there any diversity in the American labor movement in this issue?”
AS: At the local level, people are afraid for their jobs because of globalization, and that’s a real issue that the executive & legal branches, and academia should address because we all live in the microeconomy. We need to figure out a way to talk about people and jobs and their future, and when you explain to people that Colombia has duty free access to the US but the US doesn’t have access to Colombia, a light goes on and people understand that.

My question: Are businesses canvassing Congress to make it understand that the tarriffs American businesses have to pay are punitive?
AS: Members of Congress have heard and will continue hearing from US businesses. With the failure of the DOHA round bilateral agreements will become more important – if you can’t reach global agreement that makes bilateral agreements more important. We’re not the only game in town and sometimes folks don’t understand that Canada has a trade agreement with Colombia, and process foods from Canada will enter with – 0 – duty while ours will come in with 20% duty, and our business will go to Canada. When I was stationed in Chile, Chile had an agreement with Canada and not with the US, and our market share dropped. I don’t want us to lose market share anywhere. And it’s certainly in our national security interest to see a democratic, open maket economy be successful in Colombia.

Monica/IBD: Pres. Uribe’s privatizing businesses and there’s little union labor, Does this freeing of the markets have any influence on the AFL-CIO’s opposition? Would free trade allow more energy production?
AS: The 2 big labor confederations are primarily public sector unions and are not directly affected by the trade agreement. They oppose this agreement because they oppose Alvaro Uribe. How does it help Colombian energy production? Coal comes duty free but Colombian ethanol will come in duty free (there’s a .54 duty on Brazilian ethanol).
How about the Caterpillar equipment they use?
The equipment will be less expensive. The coal will stay at current market prices.
The big game – oil comes in duty free. In Colombia, because of the improved security and the business climate foreign oil companies are much more willing to invest in Colombia and are doing so at a rapid pace.

UPDATE, Thursday 31 July
Gateway Pundit posted about the call, too.

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