Colombian trade deal ratification sought
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05/05/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

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A “free-trade” deal has been negotiated between the United States and Colombia, but it awaits Congressional approval. Last month, Democrats in Congress said they would indefinitely delay a vote on ratification.

Today in Tampa, the Colombian Ambassador to the U.S. joined Florida’s junior Sen. Mel Martinez and some members of the business community to urge Congress to quickly vote to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barco said that under President Alvaro Uribe, the country has been lifted out of a recession and last year posted 7.6 percent annual growth. She said that if the U.S. Congress ratifies the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), the economies of both countries will benefit.

Martinez said that CFTA would lead to increased trade with Florida, and especially Tampa.

The discussion was held at the Tampa Club in downtown and was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s TradeRoots program. It was sponsored by cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International, the U.S.-Colombia Business Partnership, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa World Affairs Council.

Senator Martinez said the U.S. economy is teetering on a recession, but this pact could help.

Director and CEO of the Port of Tampa, Richard Wainio said the deal with Colombia is imperative to Tampa’s port and the rest of Florida.

Human Rights Watch reports that 19 labor union members and organizers were killed in Colombia from the beginning of 2008 through mid April. Impunity for those who kill labor union members is particularly an issue in Colombia. There have been only 68 convictions out of the 2500 reported killings in the past two decades, according to Human Rights Watch. Barco said a new judicial system instituted last year is reducing the problem.

Luz Nagle is a professor at Stetson University College of Law and was not satisfied with Barco’s answer. Nagle said there needs to be more time to study and evaluate the Colombia Free Trade Agreement in order to figure out what effect it will have on Colombia’s peasant farmers. She said that similar FTAs in other countries have hurt farmers because they lose money on their crops and that Colombian farmers are already starting to give up their food crops in favor of cocaine production.

Bill Burlew is with the U.S.-Colombia Business Partnership and said that because of tariffs on American goods; not passing the Colombia FTA is costing the U.S. $22 every second.

Everett Eissenstat is a U.S. Trade Representative, and was one of the lead negotiators of the Colombia FTA. It was signed in November of 2006, but held up because of disagreements over labor and environmental concerns.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

TradeRoots

World Trade Center Tampa Bay

Human Rights Watch

TradeAgreements.gov

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