Open markets and expanded opportunity are transformational forces. They create powerful incentives for countries to strengthen the institutions of representative democracy, boost accountability and the rule of law, and facilitate the workings of modern, efficient economies. Trade fosters human opportunities that build hope and give people a stake in their society’s success. Those opportunities also provide attractive alternatives to the illicit activities or the illegal immigration that some of the region’s poorest turn to in their desperation.
President Bush has advanced and built upon the vision of his predecessors -- promoting our economic integration with the region as a powerful engine of opportunity. We have negotiated more FTAs than all previous U.S. administrations combined. The President’s eight trips to the region, and the many free trade agreements we have signed since 2001, attest to a remarkable level of engagement and commitment to its success.
Building on NAFTA, we have implemented free trade agreements with Chile, the Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic. We have concluded agreements, pending Congressional approval, with Peru, Colombia, and Panama. Today, the free trade partnerships we have solidified have the potential to span nearly the entirety of our continent -- from the Bering Strait, along the Pacific coastline, to Tierra del Fuego at the very tip of the hemisphere.
These trade agreements, with their careful provisions for labor and environmental protection, will cumulatively boost two way trade and investment flows by hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars over time. This will generate resources and opportunities that will make a decisive difference for societies that have opted to move beyond legacies of inequality, social exclusion, and poverty.
No country more embodies this choice than Colombia, the third most populous country in Latin America. With grit, courage, and resolve, the committed leaders and talented people of that great nation are bringing an end to decades of violence that brought their nation to the brink of failure. They have embraced political and economic freedom as the path to social justice, prosperity and reconciliation, and they are experiencing some dramatic results so far.
During Colombia’s darkest days, the United States, with bipartisan support, stood together with its people. We helped Colombians as they fought narco-terrorists who threatened to destroy the country’s institutions, to destabilize its neighbors, and to spread violence and suffering far beyond its borders. We were proud to help Colombia’s people as they seized control of their future and embraced the promise of an open trading relationship with the world’s largest economy. Today, that promise has helped Colombia to achieve a level of political and economic progress that was simply unimaginable a few years ago. (...)
Three of our key democratic partners – Colombia, Panama, and Peru – have made strategic commitments to their future by signing trade agreements with us.
What is at stake for us is much more than domestic economics; it is the success of a positive vision for the Americas that successive U.S. administrations, of both parties, have wisely supported and nurtured … a vision that reflects our own most basic national interests of peace and prosperity … and a vision that has become a unifying force across ethnic, political, and social lines all across the region.
We should be absolutely clear of the consequences of not passing these agreements. If the United States does not stand with the true democrats of the Americas, who want to better their people’s lives not dominate them, then we will demonstrate exactly what the new autocrats are arguing – that democracy cannot deliver real benefits, that free markets and free trade are a road leading only to empty promises, and that the United States of America will not even stand with its best friends.
Put simply: Failing to pass the FTAs with Peru, Panama, and especially Colombia would be a win for Hugo Chavez and a defeat for the forces of democracy in the hemisphere.
So for these reasons, and many others, I urge Congress to approve the Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Peru.
John D. Negroponte is the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. Ambassador Negroponte has served in various positions at the US State Department, including as ambassador to Mexico (1989-1993) and to Honduras (1981-1985). From 1997 to 2001, Ambassador Negroponte was employed in the private sector as executive vice president for global markets of The McGraw-Hill Companies in New York. This column is based on excerpts of his remarks at the 40th Annual Meeting at the American Association of the Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA) in Washington, D.C.