El Universal | Caracas | 21-4-2006
The implications of Chávez’ words are a mystery
Chávez: Colombia-US trade pact killed the Andean Community
Colombian authorities rejected Chávez’ claims, while Alan Wagner, secretary general of the Andean Community of Nations, proposed holding a presidential summit to address this issue
EDUARDO CAMEL ANDERSON
A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Colombia initialed with the United States killed the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and has forced Venezuela into withdrawing from the bloc, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Thursday during a speech in Paraná, Brazil, where he entered 27 accords to reinforce bilateral integration.
On Wednesday, Chávez claimed his country would leave CAN, saying that the bloc was "deadly wounded."
In Brazil, on Thursday, the Venezuelan ruler argued that the pacts both Colombia and Peru signed with the United States amounted to a sort of small Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA) that harmed Andean integration. Chávez further said such agreements run counter regional trade conventions.
Colombia rejected Chávez’ assertions. The Colombian Ministry of Industry and Commerce, in a document forwarded to El Universal, said the Colombia-US FTA was executed with "respect for Andean regulations and for the sensibilities of the partners."
"Under the FTA, CAN is protected. The Andean legal framework prevails over the FTA, as expressly provided for in the final text of the FTA," said Colombia Commerce minister Jorge Humberto Botero in the document.
Venezuela, however, did not include a similar provision when it officially sought its entrance to the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) in 2005.
Colombia claims it requested each partner under CAN to provide information on the products they deemed sensitive to the FTA.
Regarding Venezuela, bilateral trade was protected by implementing a seven-year tax relief treaty for Venezuelan petrochemical exports to the United States, a 10-year tax relief treaty for Venezuelan iron and steel exports. Likewise, in the automotive sector, a number of special terms and trade preferences were set.
Botero added that late on March the CAN Secretariat General forwarded a letter certifying that Colombia met all requirements and obligations vis-à-vis the Andean countries when entering into the FTA.
"In this sense, no reproaches are valid," Botero told Caracol Radio, adding he ignored the implications of Chávez’ move.
"It is noteworthy that Colombia does not object Venezuela plans to create a free trade area with Mercosur, even if such a move could involve -and will certainly involve- Colombia facing a very serious competition with Brazil and Argentina."
The implications of Chávez’ announcements are not known to Venezuelan officials either, at least not officially. Venezuelan Foreign Affairs minister Alí Rodríguez Araque told his Colombian counterpart Carolina Barco he was not aware of Chávez’ decision.
Barco "called minister Rodríguez and he told her he did not know the implications of President Chávez’ words," Botero told Colombian media, AFP reported.
"The Venezuelan Foreign Affairs vice-minister (Pável Rondón), who was in Brussels with CAN secretary general and Colombian Foreign Affairs vice-minister (Camilo Reyes), had no information on the implications of President Chávez’ assertions either," Botero added.
Meanwhile, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said Chávez’ announcement should be "addressed carefully and calmly," Efe reported.
"We want an open CAN that is able to overcome poverty. Therefore, we want to address this issue with reasoning and calmly, in analytical debates, based on the principle that we are going to find ways for all of us to do fine."
Meanwhile, Alan Wagner, secretary general of CAN, proposed holding a presidential summit to deal with Chávez’ decision to withdraw from the bloc, AFP reported.
Translated by Maryflor Suárez R.