A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article in a local newspaper in which the Colombian ambassador in the U.S., Carolina Barco, expressed herself to be very optimistic about getting Congress’ approval for the free trade agreement. Likewise, President Uribe was so optimistic as to say Colombia would push again for the FTA in the U.S. Congress, after a meeting with some U.S. representatives in Cartagena. Even the minister of commerce was happily arguing Colombia would get the votes for the trade agreement.
Then a series of unexpected events began to unfold.
First, the US Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield said: “If you offer me a bet on the likelihood the trade agreement will be approved by congress this year, I probably would not take the bet”.
Second, news articles began to circulate stating that U.S. trade deals would falter if introduced, as the Democratic Party would derail their approval because of the issue´s sensitivity among core Democrats, especially in an election year.
Third, some Democrat lawmakers, Patrick Leahy and co., addressed a letter to Hillary Clinton stating their “serious concerns” about the current “violations” of the human and workers’ rights in Colombia.
At this point, I was basically ashamed at the pusillanimity of the Colombian government whose seemingly clueless approach to this issue has been not just laughable but shameful. I would not mind so much, if the government wouldn’t made such a big fuss about the chances of the trade deal AGAIN.
Although the ignorance or good will of the Uribe administration has been responsible for one of the biggest fiascoes in Colombian foreign policy, the hopes for the FTA revived during the Obama´s Union Speech last Wednesday.
In order to reach out business groups and Republicans, President Barack Obama launched a drive to double U.S. exports over the next five years, saying “We need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.”
Ms. Pelosi, one of the most trade-reticent Democrat lawmakers, was behind him as he favorably spoke out about trade
His change of discourse, as the natural leader of the Democratic Party, puts him at odds with both core Democratic constituencies, who erroneously blame international trade for current high levels of unemployment, and with Democratic lawmakers who will face a tough re-election bid and won´t be supporting any trade adventures in the current political environment.
So what are the odds the FTA gets approved this year?
None; as Obama clearly has a pragmatic approach to pushing his local agenda, which is focused on the health care bill and the reform of the financial system. If he could not get the health care reform approved with majorities in both chambers, how much less likely that he could get any FTA successfully approved with so many congressional seats at risk.
Thus, the domestic context and politics of the U.S. are going to play the leading role in framing the trade policy in the short term, and the Colombian government again is miscalculating its chances of getting anything done with the current U.S. administration. The government should understand that there is zero chance of getting the trade agreement approved this year, or while the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.
All the fuss the Uribe administration has been making in recent years about his famous FTA with the U.S. has backfired. Uribe is just giving to the leftist pseudo-narcissist local NGOs and unions more ammunition to propel their own hidden communist agenda, which, by the way, will be in the best interest of the local terrorists organizations.
Author Luis J. Rodríguez is CEO of e-Bursatil.com.co, a website focused on Colombia’s financial market