Dow Jones | November 4th, 2007
Andean Trade Preferences Need To Be Extended After Feb -USTR
Inti Landauro, Dow Jones Newswires
BOGOTA -(Dow Jones)- The trade preferences granted to Andean countries by the U.S. will need to be extended after February 2008 even if free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia designed to replace the preferences are approved, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said late Saturday in Bogota.
Once such treaties are approved in Congress they still need several administrative steps before entering into force and it is unlikely those steps will be fulfilled before the trade preferences are scheduled to expire in February, Schwab said.
"The timing means the question is not whether (the preferences) are extended, but for how long," she said. "If it’s too long then it gives an opportunity for opponents to the FTA [Free Trade Agreement] to say you don’t need an FTA and if it is too short, then you are not giving yourself enough time to have the Colombian FTA enacted."
She declined to specify what would be the period she’d like to preferences to be extended.
The U.S. government negotiated and signed free trade agreements with Colombia and Peru last year to replace the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act, or ATPDEA, granted to help those countries, plus Ecuador and Bolivia, to diversify from the production of the coca leaf, the raw material used to produce cocaine.
Ecuador and Bolivia didn’t negotiate free trade agreements with the U.S. and some legislators are considering not extending the trade preferences for those two countries anymore, Schwab said.
The parliaments of Peru and Colombia already ratified the FTAs with their respective countries, while the U.S. Congress still needs to ratify both texts.
Earlier this week, the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the free trade agreement with Peru, paving the way for a vote in the full House in the coming days.
In the case of Colombia, though, several Democratic legislators oppose the agreement because they say the Colombian government isn’t doing enough to prevent and punish the killings of labor leaders in the country.
According to official data from the Colombian government homicides of trade unionists have fallen by over 60% since 2002, when President Alvaro Uribe came to power.
Still, the country’s record is terrible. More trade unionists were killed in Colombia in 2006 than in the rest of the world combined, according to a record from the International Trade Union Confederation, according to an Associated Press report published in September.
Representative Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, this week said he doesn’t support the trade agreement with Colombia.
Violence in Colombia is "horrific," said Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who supports the agreement.
"We want to see a labor force with the opportunity to be able to organize themselves," she said. The Colombian government is making efforts to improve the situation, she said and it doesn’t make sense to wait for "complete perfection" before approving the agreement.
The ratification of the FTA with Colombia is also a way to support Uribe, who has been a loyal ally of the U.S. in the region since he was first elected.
In the region, heads of state such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or Ecuadorian President Alvaro Correa have adopted a critical position toward the U.S. government and U.S. companies.
Among the countries in the region, the Colombian model is the one the U.S. wants to support, Schwab said.
Democrats in Congress also opposed the free trade agreement on concerns low labor and environment protection standards in Colombia would constitute unfair competition to U.S. workers.
In May, however, the Democrats and the Bush administration reached an agreement to add measures to the FTA texts in order to strengthen both the environmental and labor provisions in Colombia and Peru, Panama and South Korea, the other countries with pending free trade agreements.