BY LATIN AMERICA ADVISOR
US Republican lawmakers [recently] urged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to allow a vote on a proposed US free trade agreement with Colombia, saying the deal would die if it didn't get a vote in the current session of Congress. Will a vote take place during the current session? Is the FTA dead if there is not vote?
Jeff Vogt, a Global Economic Policy Specialist at the AFL-CIO: It is extremely unlikely that the Congress will vote on the Colombia FTA during the current session. First, the Bush administration has largely failed to address the urgent concerns noted by Speaker Pelosi with regard to shoring up the US economy, and the labor market remains very weak. Importantly, the labor rights situation in Colombia, a decisive factor for most Democrats, shows no signs of improvement. Indeed, the number of trade unionists murdered so far this year, 31, is significantly higher than the number murdered the same time last year, 22. Measures to combat impunity have been insufficient, as the intellectual authors of most crimes have gone unpunished. Also, recent labor law reforms passed by the Colombian Congress create as many problems as they resolve. It is unlikely that the lack of a vote this year means the death of the FTA. Certainly, so long as the labor and other human rights concerns remain, opposition will continue. If the FTA were to come up at a future date, there would be pressure to address additional concerns of citizens both in the United States and Colombia.
Beatrice Rangel, Director of AMLA Consulting LLC: I fail to understand how the US Congress is going to explain to the world in general and Latin America in particular that it stands for democracy in the Hemisphere while shunning the US-Colombia free trade agreement. Over the past six years, Colombia has made every possible effort to reduce violence, drug trade, and human rights violations. Colombia has further stood up bravely to the FARC's extortionist practices, which have kept villages under siege, individuals kidnapped, and drug distribution on schedule. The business community has agreed to higher taxation rates to be able to finance the war against terrorism without disturbing macroeconomic balances. Colombia is one of the US' best trading partners, and the free trade agreement will certainly increase US exports to Colombia. More recently, the Colombian government executed a rescue operation that liberated not only the French-Colombian celebrity Ingrid Betancourt but also three US citizens. The free trade agreement would allow Colombia to lock in this progress by continuing to grow and through growth create jobs and better economic conditions for its citizens. These jobs are also essential to secure the peaceful integration of FARC members into society. Should the US Congress refuse to take a vote on this very important agreement for Latin America's democratic development, the signal to the region will clearly be to seek other allies that would better understand the beneficial impact of trade for democratic growth. But anything is possible during an election year in the US, and it unfortunately seems very likely that Speaker Pelosi would rather prevent this vote from taking place than engaging in a discussion over short-term quick fixes versus long-term economic and political gains for both the US and Colombia.
Enrique Gómez Pinzón, Partner at Holland & Knight LLP: Not only US Republican lawmakers have been calling for a vote on the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia—and those with Panama and Korea. President Bush, when commemorating Colombia's independence, vehemently called on Democrat lawmakers to vote and approve these three proposed free trade agreements. It does not appear that local US politics will allow the vote on the US-Colombia free trade agreement until after the November elections. Once US political leaders can return to taking care of business as usual, the US-Colombia FTA may have a chance. But the opportunity will only be open during the very short lame duck Congress session. If there is no vote on the US-Colombia FTA during this current session of Congress, probably the new administration will want to review the text and maybe renegotiate or add to the current proposed FTA. Does that mean it would be 'dead'? I do not think so. However, if that were to happen, the proposed FTA might return to its embryonic stage.