BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
The U.S. Congress will likely pass the Colombia free trade agreement by the end of this year, predicts a leading trade expert.
“I’m very optimistic that [it] will be cleared by the end of the year,” said Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
He believes the progress on the Korea free trade agreement, which has also been delayed by U.S. lawmakers, has “broken the ice.”
The US-Colombia FTA was negotiated five years ago and formally signed in November 2006, but its approval has been delayed due to opposition from US unions and key Democratic lawmakers.
The Korea FTA was negotiated in April 2007 – two years after the Colombia FTA – but is now expected to be approved by July.
Schott said the Colombia FTA was not passed because of its content, but other issues relating to Colombia such as its track record on human rights. “The Peru-US FTA is exactly the same,” he said. That agreement was passed by the US Congress in 2007 after being negotiated in December 2005.
Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, disagreed. “It’s not hanging on what Colombia does or doesn’t do,” she said. Instead, the delay has largely been caused by opposition from labor groups like the AFL-CIO, Purcell pointed out.
The delay in passing the Colombia FTA has caused significant uncertainty as the country’s existing trade benefits are only renewed for limited time periods. The current trade preferences, the Andean Trade Preference Act, expires next week and may not be renewed by the US Congress in time to avoid a lapse, Schott warned.
Camilo Reyes, the executive director of the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce in Bogota, expressed frustration that the FTA had not been passed.
Jose Fernandez, US Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs at the US State Department, said he understood that frustration, but blamed the US Congress for the delay. “This administration is committed to pushing for a FTA [with Colombia],” he said.
Meanwhile, both Schott and Purcell emphasized that Brazil has strong potential for US trade. US-Brazil trade was only a seventh of US-Mexico trade, Schott said.
Purcell repeated her call for a US-Brazil free trade agreement.
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