Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Do the right thing for Colombia

Because it is good news where both Republicans and Democrats are working together against Communists and retrograde Unions - you may not have heard about SECSTATE's visit with members of Congress to Colombia.
The Bush administration is mounting an "unprecedented campaign" for Congress to pass the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, concerned that foot-dragging could send a message abroad that Washington can't keep its commitments to allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led a delegation of Democratic lawmakers to Colombia this weekend to promote the agreement.

In all, six Cabinet secretaries are slated to lead lawmakers to the South American nation through March to push the accord that was signed in 2006 but still lacks congressional approval, U.S. officials said.

Colombian officials also are making the U.S. rounds, with South Florida a key stop. Vice President Francisco Santos met Monday with officials from Miami-Dade County, which passed a resolution last fall backing the pact to boost commerce with a key business partner.

Colombia ranked as South Florida's fourth-largest trade partner in 2006, with $4.4 billion in goods traded, up 11.3 percent from the previous year, according to the latest full-year data from the U.S. Commerce Department.

U.S. unions, including the AFL-CIO, have rejected free trade with Colombia, citing violence against labor leaders there. Many Democrats have withheld support because of union concerns.

But Chris Padilla, assistant secretary of commerce for export administration, said violence has dropped in Colombia in recent years, both against labor leaders and in general. Under conservative President Alvaro Uribe, the Andean nation of 44 million residents has transformed, with murders and kidnappings down, investment up and the economy posting its best performance in decades.

"It would be a foreign policy mistake of colossal proportions if we are to turn our back on an ally that has made such remarkable progress," Padilla said during a Miami visit Thursday. "It would send a message that those committed to freedom and democracy in this hemisphere can't rely on the United States as a friend."

South Florida's trade community and many U.S. business groups also back the agreement as a way to expand U.S. exports, noting that recent free trade accords with Chile, Mexico and other nations have energized U.S. sales to those nations.

Advocates note that Colombia already sells most of its goods duty-free to the United States under existing trade laws, so the pact would mainly expand market access for U.S. goods and services in Colombia. Many also cite strategic reasons to support a U.S. ally.

"We're pulling out all the stops for the Colombia free trade agreement," Frank Vargo, vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, said Monday. "There will be a lot of fireworks, lightning and thunder, but I believe it can pass before the elections."
Colombia is a solid democracy, a good friend, and the Colombian people love Americans. The fact they, by their economy, freedom, and progress put the lie to Hugo next door, just makes them more deserving of a Free Trade Agreement. Ask Walter and Patricia at The Latino Grill. Video here.

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