U.S. President Barack Obama finally sent the long-stalled free trade agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Colombia to Congress on Monday.
Obama said in a statement, “we’ve worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses,” He added, “I call on Congress to pass them without delay.”
Negotiations over the agreement, known in the U.S. as the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (CPTA), began back in 2004 and were concluded in 2006.
The bill was sent to the Colombian Congress in late 2006 and was signed into law in July 2007. Colombia’s Constitutional Court completed a review and approved the agreement in 2008.
However, despite efforts from then President George Bush to push it through 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 2008, President Obama has said he will push for approval of the CPTA as long as Colombia offers concrete proof of improvements in its human rights and labor record.
Earlier this year, the U.S and Colombia agreed a Labor Action Plan to address concerns over assassinations, violence and intimidation against unionists and abuse of workers.
While it has been broadly welcomed, the plan has come under criticism from unions and human rights groups for failing to alter the situation on the ground.
The CPTA has also been delayed by partisan political squabbling in the U.S, most recently over the inclusion of a retraining program for workers displaced by trade.
American media have been speculating that Obama held off on sending the report to Congress in recent months until he was sure it would pass smoothly, without the bitter conflicts of recent congressional debates.
If approved by Congress, the agreement will eliminate trade barriers and tariffs, opening up access to the other country’s markets in both goods and services.
Supporters of the deal claim it will boost exports and create jobs in both countries. However, critics argue it would wipe out small and medium scale farmers in Colombia due to competition from cheap, subsidized American agriculture, while in the U.S. workers would lose jobs to cheap labor in Colombia.
Former President Alvaro Uribe and current President Juan Manuel Santos have both energetically pursued approval of the deal, seeing it as a keystone economic policy and a symbol of the strength of their administrations’ relationship with the U.S.