What is in this article?:
- Congress close to Colombia, Panama trade deals
- Panama/South Korea
- To facilitate U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) deal, Colombia agrees to "action plan" to protect worker rights.
- Colombia, the third-largest economy in South America, imported some $12 billion of U.S. goods in 2010.
- A U.S./Colombia FTA is expected to add an additional $1 billion annually to U.S. exports.
Following lengthy negotiations and the resolution of several sticking points, Congress may soon vote on long-delayed free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia and Panama.
During a Wednesday press conference, U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk said the Colombian government had agreed to a series of steps – outlined in an “action plan” -- to ensure worker rights, the end of anti-union violence and other issues.
Colombia, the third-largest economy in Central- and South America, “is one of our most strategic partners in the region,” said Kirk. “We think the opportunity to reduce barriers to U.S. exports will create new opportunities for American business and, thereby, support better jobs for Americans.”
An example: in 2010, U.S. exports in goods to Colombia amounted to $12 billion. Under an FTA, the International Trade Commission “estimates the tariff reductions … will allow us to expand that by another $1 billion.
“Under the agreement, over 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products will become duty-free immediately. The remaining tariffs will be phased out over 10 years. In terms of agricultural commodities, more than half of our current farm exports to Colombia will become duty-free immediately with the balance to be eliminated over the next 15 years.”
For more, read a series of government-written fact sheets on the deal.
Earlier this year, President Obama directed Kirk’s office, “to intensify our engagement with Colombia” and deal with “issues and concerns expressed by many in Congress and around the country” regarding labor violence and the administration of justice in the country.
Obama “made it clear that as much as we believed in the economic imperative and opportunity to the United States through the FTAs with Colombia, we also thought it important that we demonstrate to the American public our resolve to have FTAs that reflect our values as to how workers should be treated.
“In that vein, we’ve had … very intensive engagement with the government of Colombia. As a result of that intensive work, we’ve reached an agreement on what we’re calling an ‘action plan’ related to labor rights that outlines a number of steps the government of Colombia has agreed it will undertake over the next several weeks and months. That, we think, puts us in a position to begin discussions with Congress on moving forward with the FTA.”
The plan, said Kirk, “significantly expands the protection for labor leaders and union organizers. It bolsters efforts to hold accountable and punish those who have perpetrated violence against union members. And it makes a number of important steps to strengthen labor laws and enforcement.”
The government of Colombia has approached the trade deal “in a pro-active way and has already taken some steps,” said Michael Froman, Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics. “Included are discussions about land reform, victim reparation, government reorganization.
“The ‘action plan’ is a series of incremental, additional steps we’ve been able to reach with the Colombians that adds specificity and detailed actions in three areas: labor law, labor violence and impunity. We’re comfortable this package represents a fulsome approach to dealing with those issues.”
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, currently in the United States for an appearance at the United Nations, is expected to travel to Washington on Thursday to meet with President Obama. “We anticipate the two will approve the action plan,” said Kirk.