Colombian businessmen aired their frustrations and called for the U.S. to pass the pending free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her official visit to Colombia on Wednesday, reports La Republica.
“Upon the visit of Hillary Clinton, [we say] no more delays with the FTA. Colombia and its business community all demand… we need to know once and for all what to expect. We have fulfilled practically all of the requirements that were outstanding, and all of the excuses for delaying the signing have been exhausted,” said Eugenio Marulanda, president of Colombia’s association of chambers of commerce (Confecamaras).
The U.S.-Colombia trade deal was originally signed in 2006 under then-President George W. Bush, but has been delayed due to concerns by U.S. lawmakers, mostly Democrats, over Colombia’s human rights record. The FTA is waiting to be put before the U.S. Congress for a vote.
However, according to Javier Diaz, president of Colombia’s national association of international trade (Analdex), the blame for the delay lies with U.S. President Barack Obama, not with Congress. “They have told us that there are enough votes in the U.S. Congress to pass it [the FTA], but what is lacking is the will from the executive branch to include it on the agenda,” Diaz complained.
According to Ivan Amaya, president of Colombia’s textile association (Ascoltex), however, the continued delay is due to one of the agreement’s key skeptics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “We are not optimistic that the FTA will go through this year, not because of a lack of will from the governments, but from the lack of will” of Nancy Pelosi, “but we must keep trying,” Amaya explained.
Rafael Mejia, the president of Colombia’s agricultural society (SAC), also urged for the passing of the FTA, arguing that its delay is costing the two countries financially. “The U.S. has to approve the FTA quickly, as the Colombian government and business community have asked, in order to improve our commercial relations, because this delay is hurting both countries, now that Colombia has replaced the cereal products previously bought from the U.S. with products from countries like Canada and Argentina,” Mejia pointed out.
Marulanda, the chambers of commerce president, said that the delay of the FTA is insulting to one of the U.S.’s main allies in the hemisphere. “Forty-five million Colombians, are working to strengthen our democracy, build collective prosperity, eradicate the most belligerent and powerful narco-trafficking and terrorism in all of the Americas. It is imperative that our main ally respond clearly to the new reality in Colombia,” Marulanda said.
Clinton, who arrived to Colombia Tuesday night, will meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the Andean nation’s presidential candidates, Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus.
Topics of discussion between the U.S. secretary of state and Colombian leaders include security, drug trafficking, politics and the economy.
According to Uribe, Colombia’s pending free trade agreement with the U.S. will be high on the agenda.