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Friday, February 05, 2010

Colombia 2010: Uribe Yes, FTA No

It is little likely that the US-Colombia free trade agreement will be approved by the US Congress this year, experts say.
NO FTA BOOST: Trade between Colombia and the United States, represented by the port of Cartagena, won't get a boost from the US-Colombia FTA anytime soon, experts predict. (Photo: SPRC)



Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will be able to run for a third term – and win – but the country’s free trade agreement with the United States won’t be approved by the U.S. Congress this year, experts predict.

Colombia’s constitution, Uribe is barred from running for a third term. However, the Constitutional Court can decide to approve a popular referendum on the issue. Such a referendum will be strongly in favor of Uribe’s re-election and he will also easily win the actual election in May as well, polls show.


Although Colombian newspaper El Tiempo revealed yesterday that one of the Constitutional Court judges is planning to block the referendum, experts believe the majority will support the move.

”It will be 5-4 in favor of the referendum,” predicts Alberto Bernal, head of emerging market macroeconomic strategy at Bulltick Capital Markets. His comments were made at the Latin America 2010 conference in
Miami today organized by the University of Miami’s Center for Hemispheric Policy.

Liliana Rojas-Suarez, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in
Washington, DC also predicts a majority in the Constitutional Court for the referendum and what she sees as smooth sailing for Uribe after that. The uncertainty around the elections have benefited the Colombian president since no other candidates from within his own coalition or the opposition have been able to gain any momentum, she told the same conference.

Uribe’s likely re-election has long-term consequences which are not necessarily good for
Colombia, warned Joseph Ganitsky, research professor at the Department of Management at the University of Miami. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts even more,” he said and cited the example of Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori whose first two terms were deemed successful, but whose third term eventually landed him in jail.

Bernal agreed with the concern, but emphasized that the market clearly preferred Uribe to candidates such as Gustavo Petro from the leftist Polo Democratico, who he called “75 percent Hugo Chavez.” Without Uribe running, there is a chance that a Chavez-financed Petro could reach a second round and even win, he warned. Uribe on the other hand is known by investors, who trust his policies, he added.



Meanwhile, the US-Colombia free trade agreement that was signed in November 2006 is no closer U.S. congressional ratification despite assurances to that effect by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Wednesday.


Asked by a lawmaker whether passing the pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama and South Korea agreements "this year" was part of President Barack Obama's plan to double exports, he responded: “Absolutely,” Reuters reported. However, both the Treasury Department and U.S. Trade Representative's office later issued statements clarifying that U.S. trade officials still had to resolve outstanding issues with the three countries before Obama would actually send the FTAs to US lawmakers for a vote, the news agency reported.

Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, says the Panama FTA may pass this year, but the Colombia FTA will likely have to wait until next year.

The delay in passing the Colombia FTA means that US exporters will be facing discrimination compared to other countries that have signed and implemented FTA’s with
Colombia, he told the Miami conference today.

A major obstacle for passing the FTA with Colombia is not only continued US union opposition, but congressional elections in November when Democrats will need union backing, Schott said. Meanwhile, protectionist sentiments have grown in both the Democratic and Republican parties, so even a Republican majority in the House of Representatives would not necessarily result in passage of the Colombia FTA, he added.

Another factor is that there’s an “agenda fatigue” among US lawmakers, which will weaken the likelihood of the Obama administration pressing Congress on the issue, said Brian O’Neill, vice chairman of Lazard International and a former deputy assistant secretary at the US Treasury Department.

One hope for the Colombia FTA, however, is that recognition grows that it would help generate more jobs just as the
US labor market continues to suffer from high unemployment, Schott said.  

Despite the lack of any US FTA anytime soon, foreign investors remain bullish on Colombia's business outlook, a Latin Business Chronicle survey of international companies shows.

 © Copyright Latin Business Chronicle



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From: Sergio

Fort Lauderdale
Bultick is deeply wrong. Uribe still has a very little chance, but very little. On next August 7th we will see a new President, belonging or not to the Uribe's cicle, but not Uribe any more. The D-day is comming in the following weeks when the Court will say the last word and will declare invalid the law that creates the way to reelection for Uribe. It won't fly.

From: S

Time is running out for president Uribe to pass a referendum that would enable him to run for a third consecutive term. Elections are in May and there are three main hurdles still to overcome: supreme court approval, referendum voting which takes 2 months to coordinate, and getting enough popular votes to be eligible. This publication makes a flawed judgment stating that Uribe III will be good for the country; Colombia needs strong institutions, not a single strong man, to attract foreign investment. Petro doesn’t have any significant support. There are good candidates from Uribe’s coalition and other independent, pro-business candidates who are more likely to be elected.

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