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’EU trade deal could take 1.5 years to pass’

Colombia Reports | Friday, 18 June 2010

’EU trade deal could take 1.5 years to pass’

Brett Borkan

Colombia’s free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (E.U.) could take one and a half years to be ratified by the European parliament, according to the E.U.’s Deputy Director for External Relations.

The FTA, which was signed by Colombia and the EU in May, still needs to pass through the EU’s lower house (European Parliament) and upper house (Council of the E.U.), which, E.U. official Joao Aguiar Machado explained on Thursday, could take a while due to "distinct sensitivities" to the deal.

The issues that could cause the long delay reflect similar concerns to those voiced in the United States and Canada. Aguiar Machado explained that the issue is the situation of human rights in Colombia,

According to Aguiar Machado, Colombia has made "advances" recently in regards to its human rights record, but must continue improving in order to move the ratification process forward.

The E.U. official also touched on the issue of Colombian dairy farmers who opposed the agreement on the basis that its ratification would devastating to more than 400,000 Colombian dairy farming families. "In any type of deal there is also some sector that can be damaged," Aguiar Machado said, adding that their concerns "are justified, but exaggerated."

He also explained that the FTA agreement only includes products such as powdered milk and cheeses, and even these products will carry a 96% tariff within the first few years, which should alleviate some of the harm caused to the Colombian dairy sector.

Aguiar Machado also called the FTA "very moderate" compared to Colombia’s deal with the U.S., noting that upwards of $37 million will be given to Colombia by the EU in the coming years to improve the "competitiveness" of its dairy sector.

Following the signing of the agreement on May 19, after nine rounds of negotiations that were finalized in February, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said that the signing of a E.U. free trade deal was "a very important step for Colombia’s economic and social development."

According to Uribe, the agreement will create "sustainable growth of above 5% or 6%, which will result in a substantial reduction in unemployment, and that poverty will be overcome."

The agreement was signed by in Madrid by Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez and European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, in the presence of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who heads the E.U. this semester.

 source: Colombia Reports