IBD has a great editorial: Fatal Naivete On Free Trade
Answering tough questions from members of both parties in hearings, Clinton generally signaled good intentions on trade. But her casual assertion that U.S. relations with Colombia will always be good, even without a free-trade treaty, is naive.
It reflects a fallacy common among the many Democrats who believe ties with Colombia will always be strong and that Colombia’s critical help in the war on drugs and terror can be taken for granted.
The attitude was summed up as follows in 2007 by Natalie Cardona, a free-trade foe with the American Friends Service Committee: “I doubt the U.S. would lose an ally. We’re giving them billions of dollars of aid.”
But signs are flashing that this is a miscalculation.
Although Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe sent a courteous message to welcome President Obama, Colombian officials have grown frustrated in the last two years, warning Democrats their friendship, which has cost them much blood and treasure, had limits.
Referring to a rejection of free trade, Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, said last year: “Colombia plays such a vital role in the continent for U.S. interests that it would be geostrategic suicide to make a decision like that. I wonder who wants to be the one who loses Colombia like they lost China in the 1950s.”
Also last year, Trade Minister Luis Plata warned IBD that denying free trade to Colombia in a hemisphere full of U.S. free-trade treaties amounted to sanctions on an ally because the other countries with which America has agreements are its competitors.
In Santos’ view, it would be “an insult” and a “slap in the face.” Failure to pass the treaty, he said, “I’m sure will lead to a fundamental repositioning of relations between Colombia and the U.S.”
The matter is urgent, because the global economic downturn is hitting Colombia hard now. With Colombia’s joblessness hitting 10.8% and industrial output down more than 13% in November, it can’t wait much longer. What’s more, the absence of a free-trade deal has driven much of the country’s trade to Venezuela, an economy that faces a massive collapse as falling oil prices, waste, corruption and Hugo Chavez’s hostile investment climate take their course. Colombia’s economy could go down down with it.
Colombia already has tariff-free trading on its exports to the U.S. for its cooperation in the war on drugs. It collects $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. imports, but would gladly give that up to draw foreign investment that would flow under the trade treaty.
Colombia has begun a $16 billion stimulus package, attempting to boost investment in upgrades for private industry to make it more competitive globally. But this amounts to sloppy seconds compared with what real foreign investment would do.
When IBD visited Colombia a year ago as part of a congressional delegation led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, we asked Uribe why the treaty was so urgent. His answer: “So we can have more investment — to create good jobs, and foster development. This is the message I want to give from Colombia.”Clinton may believe the U.S. relationship with Colombia is based on the U.S.’ $500 million aid under Plan Colombia. But that misunderstands the “shared responsibility” of the drug war.
Go read the rest of the article.
The foreign-policy implications, and the consequences, will be dire. A misstep and not only Colombia will be affected, but also the rest of the hemisphere and particularly the USA.
Considering how the Pelosi Congress handed out “the Chavez Rule”, we have plenty of reason to worry.
The Obama administration will probably say that investors should focus on the US rather than Colombia in these troubled economic times. However, they probably won’t cancel the other FTAs in the region, putting our closest ally in South America at a competitive disadvantage to other, less cooperative trading partners. That will eventually push Colombia away from the US at a vital time when we need them as a counterweight to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and the FARC terrorists that both men fund and support.
After years of difficult reforms and fighting the drug trade and FARC simultaneously, Colombia deserves better treatment than this.