Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos praised U.S. Congress’ ratification of a long-stalled free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries in a televised speech Wednesday.
According to Santos, the ratification of the long-stalled deal “is an unmistakable sign that we are doing well, that we are going the right way. Today the world recognizes the new Colombia we are constructing and opens the door to us.”
The Colombian president said the decision of the U.S. House of Representative and Senate made the day “historic for the relations between Colombia and the United States, a historic day for Colombia’s insertion to the world and a historic day for the Colombian businessmen and workers.”
“Today … with the approval of the FTA, [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama has kept his word with the Colombian people,” added Santos shortly after the U.S. House voted 262 – 167 in favor, followed by a 66 – 33 vote in the Senate.
Obama, who had sent the trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress only 9 days ago, said in a statement that “tonight’s vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label ‘Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property.”
U.S. unions, who have rejected a free trade pact with Colombia citing human rights and American jobs concerns, rejected the ratification.
“Historically, these agreements have closed American manufacturing facilities and cost American jobs,” said United Steel Workers International President Leo W. Gerard in a statement, adding that “the problems with the Colombia FTA go far beyond the American jobs that will be lost. Colombia, with some 170,000 murders of human rights activists, unionists and religious leaders and in the last 15 years, remains, despite government claims to the contrary, the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist.”
Negotiations between the U.S. and Colombia over the trade deal, known in the U.S. as the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CPTA), began in 2004. Former U.S. President George Bush and then-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed the pact in November 2006.
The bill was sent to the Colombian Congress in late 2006 and passed in July 2007. Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed a review and approved the agreement in 2008.
However, despite efforts from ex-President Bush to push the bill through the U.S. Congress before the end of his term, Bush’s Democratic opponents blocked the bill, citing concerns over Colombia’s human rights record.
Since assuming power in 2009, President Obama said he would push for approval of the CPTA as long as Colombia offered concrete proof of improvements in its human rights and labor record.
Earlier this year, the U.S. and Colombia agreed to a Labor Action Plan to address concerns over assassinations, violence and intimidation against unionists and abuse of workers.