Implementing language was sent to Capitol Hill on Monday to force action on the pending free trade agreement with Colombia that was signed 16 months ago. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer told reporters that this is neither the beginning nor the end of cooperative efforts with Congress, but is an important milestone for the agreement. The Colombian FTA has drawn much opposition from many legislators.
"In response to congressional concerns, the Administration added enforceable labor and environmental standards to the agreement in May of last year," says Schafer. "We have hosted trips to Colombia for almost 60 members of Congress to demonstrate the progress that country has made in reducing violence and strengthening democracy, and we remain committed to working with both parties toward approval of the Colombian agreement."
Schafer says he hopes to see the same support on this legislation that was seen a similar agreement with Peru that passed overwhelming on a bipartisan vote earlier this year.
"Our farmers and ranchers stand to gain a great deal from this agreement," Schafer says. "Colombia is the largest market for our agriculture exports in South America, buying a record $1.2 billion of our agriculture products in 2007. What's interesting is that this market for our goods is growing despite the fact that all of our goods face duties and tariffs entering Colombia."
According to Schafer U.S. farm exports to Colombia high quality beef, cotton, wheat and soybeans will receive immediate duty-free treatment. The American Farm Bureau estimates that once the agreement is fully implemented, American agriculture will see $690 million in gains each year.
"There are intangible gains with this agreement as well," Schafer says. "Colombia is a key ally in our hemisphere, and this agreement helps strengthen our national security. There are concerns about violence in Colombia, but we believe, as does Colombia, that one of the best ways to help address them is through increased trade. It stimulates the economy and creates jobs, two crucial factors in stabilizing a society."