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Work begins on another trade accord with Andean nations

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Work begins on another trade accord with Andean nations

By Doreen Hemlock, Business Writer

20 July 2005

The battle over a free trade agreement with Central America spilled over Tuesday in Miami to the Andean nations of South America.

U.S. negotiators are meeting with counterparts from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador in Miami this week to craft terms of a free-trade deal many expect to be finished later this year and sent to Congress for approval in 2006.

But the same tough issues complicating deals with Central America and other areas quickly emerged: How to handle farm trade when Washington subsidizes crops, how to protect small producers from being swamped by global giants, and how to enforce patents while ensuring the poor can buy generic drugs.

Both supporters and opponents mobilized to sway public opinion in separate events.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a seminar with executives to press the case that more open markets boost economic growth and jobs, both in the United States and abroad. Panelists urged business leaders to keep lobbying after Congress votes on a Central America trade deal this summer to gain passage of an Andean deal later.

"We will win on CAFTA, but we have a long way to go on the Andean agreement," said Bill Morley, formerly the chamber’s top trade lobbyist, referring to the Central American-Dominican Republic free trade agreement.

But a civic leader from Colombia’s anti-free trade group Recalca conducted meetings with reporters to warn that Andean nations have "more to lose than gain" by flinging open their fragile markets to the world’s richest nation.

"If we suddenly could sell all of Colombia’s production to the United States, fabulous. But the capacity that Colombia has to export to the United States is limited," said Enrique Daza, Recalca’s coordinator, who visited from Bogotá. "If we all are going to sell tropical fruits to the U.S., we end up fighting among the poor to reach the rich."

The push came as the House is expected to vote late next week on DR-CAFTA, with even the most ardent backers predicting only a slim victory. The Senate passed the deal June 30 by its smallest margin yet on free trade: 55-45.

"The [trade] situation in Washington is very, very difficult, and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier," said Mark Smith, who heads the chamber’s Americas division, appealing for stronger business activism.

Florida has the most at stake among U.S. states in the trade deals, because it is the main U.S. gateway for trade with Central America and with the Andean nations of Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.