Republicans in the U.S. Senate are trying to block the extension of a trade preference agreement which allows many Colombian goods to enter the country duty-free.
An extension to the deal was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday but has met with a surprise block from a group of four senators. Colombian politicians are now left with a nervous wait to see if the bill gets passed by the U.S. Upper House before the current Andean Trade Preference Act expires on December 31 this year.
If the preferential trade terms lapse at the end of the year then many Colombian exporters will face tough barriers to the United States market, after having already suffered a lean 2010. Should the preference act not be extended by the end of the calendar year it will likely be passed in 2011, but with new members of the Senate arriving in January following this year’s mid-term elections, any new policy-making may have to wait a few weeks.
Added to the $5 billion that the country expects to lose as a result of recent catastrophic flooding, there is concern that a lapse in extending the deal could hand the Colombian economy a very nasty shock in the coming weeks.
The Republican senators who are holding up the extension are in favor of passing the pending U.S.-Colombian full free trade deal. The Colombian preference deal appears to be caught in the crossfire of bitter partisan rivalry between the two parties of the U.S. government.
The objections of the senators were reported by U.S. media as centering on a program tied into the deal that is designed to alleviate the damage to Americans who lose out under the preference granted to Colombian exporters. While this program rests uneasily with the Republicans’ free-market ideology it has been suggested in the U.S. media that the senators are opposing the assistance to U.S. workers simply in order to get promises on Democrats on future free trade deals – including the pact with Colombia.
The American press is lamenting the perverse logic of a Washington power struggle that could result in senators opposing trade preferences with Colombia to help secure free trade with the country in the future. The Wall Street Journal penned an editorial on Friday asking the senate to break the deadlock as “Colombia needs our help” and reproduced a quote from legendary former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal”.