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U.S. Highlights Benefits of Colombia FTA, Critics Note Shortcomings at Two-Year Mark

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Supporters and critics of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement marked the two-year anniversary of the agreement taking effect May 15 by highlighting its benefits and shortcomings.

A press release from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative states that in 2013 U.S. goods exports to Colombia totaled $18.6 billion, up nearly 30% from 2011, the year before the FTA entered into force. Petroleum and coal products exports doubled to $5.5 billion, transportation equipment exports grew 46% to $1.3 billion, processed foods exports gained 93% to $834 million, computer and electronic products exports rose 31% to $2.6 billion, textile and fabric exports increased 28% to $98 million, and agricultural exports grew 34% to $1.51 billion. USTR states that exports to Colombia supported an estimated 80,000 U.S. jobs in 2013.

Proexport, the Colombian government’s trade promotion agency, pointed out that 1,689 Colombian companies have exported to the U.S. since the FTA took effect, “helping to bring 362 new non-mining and non-coffee products to the market.” An agency press release said that the industries that have seen the most new exports include manufacturing, agribusiness, and textiles and apparel. Agribusiness exports have grown 6.9% and 46 new foods have reached the U.S. market for the first time, including maple syrup, oils and mineral water. Manufacturing sector exports have risen 51.6% overall and growth has been particularly evident in the instruments and apparatus sector, which includes items such as telecommunication devices, voice transmission machines and magnetic stripe cards. Pharmaceutical exports have jumped 55%.

USTR also asserted that the government of Colombia has made “meaningful progress” under the joint Action Plan Related to Labor Rights, including a significant reduction in the use of illegal cooperatives, passage of new labor laws to strengthen worker’s rights protections, and increased hiring and training of police investigators and prosecutors to address violence against unionists. But USTR also acknowledged that “much important work remains,” including on issues identified in a report released last month.

Those critical of the FTA agreed, focusing on allegations that the labor rights situation in Colombia has not seen sufficient improvement. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, argued that the FTA and the labor action plan “have not brought the improvements for workers that were promised” and called for the leaders of the two countries to “get serious about protecting workers’ rights.” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., added that “employer labor violations remain unchecked and Colombian workers continue to be denied the ability to collectively bargain and improve their livelihoods.” Public Citizen said that the Obama administration made “promises that the gross workers’ rights violations in Colombia would wane under the FTA” and that the labor action plan “would lead to greatly enhanced labor rights in Colombia” but claimed “that promise rings hollow as Colombia’s unionists face persistent murders, death threats and repression.” Both DeLauro and Public Citizen warned that similar promises are now being made with respect to Vietnam as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

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