The U.S. debate on a free trade agreement (FAT) with Colombia has become such a mindless, partisan battle that Democrats, Republicans, lobbying labor unions and trade organizations have completely forgotten whether the negotiated deal is a good or a bad one.
The Democrats, ever since the deal was signed in 2006, have opposed a trade agreement, supposedly because of human and labor rights violations in Colombia. These objections originated in the Democratic Party’s traditional relation with the domestic workers’ unions, who felt that the labor rights in a far-away country were of their concern. Of course, this argument only seems to be present against dealing with Colombia and not with other, more prominent countries with human rights abuses.
It is obviously very important that Colombia improves its human rights records, but this is a national and not a bilateral issue. A bilateral trade agreement is not the place to push for it. For this exists the International Labor Organization or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. If the U.S. was so worried about Colombian workers, they could have paid more attention to the actions of some U.S.-based multinational corporations (MNCs), accused of paying large sums to illegal groups for protection and worker harassment. Such MNCs include Coca-Cola, Chiquita, and an undisclosed oil contractor. It wasn’t until after Barack Obama was elected President that the Democrat opposition faded.
The Republicans have since then proven to be equally unconstructive about closing the deal; they boycotted a meeting of the Senate’s Finance Committee in which the FTA would be pushed to block legislation regarding U.S. workers. The conservatives’ stance seems increasingly more about politics than policies and the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is nothing but another rock to throw at the Democrats. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz says that adherents to the right-wing resurgence “evidently seek to repeal the basic laws of math and economics”. The GOP may just as well be the “Getting Old Party”.
The only ones who really stick to policy are the U.S. lobbyists for trade organizations who apparently feel they are losing money while the FTA is left unratified and Colombia is closing deals with dozens of other countries.
Meanwhile, five years after the initial signing of the free trade pact, the economies of both countries have changed so much that the value of the pact should be doubted. The content of the deal and its implications for both economies have completely been left outside the political and public debate.
As such, initial Colombian opposition concerns regarding intellectual propriety rights, the impact of the deal on the environment in Colombia and U.S. agriculture subsidies – the “free-trade champion” to the north being one of the biggest subsidizers of agriculture — have been excluded from the public debate since the deal was approved by the Colombian Congress a long time ago.
Instead, Bogota has played the sentiment card, saying that we “deserve” a free trade agreement for being such loyal friends as if any free trade agreement, well or lousily negotiated, is some sort of medal or a gift. This argument has also been made by some analysts in the U.S., who feel that this would be the best way to ensure Colombia’s loyalty
So, six years after the signing of the agreement, nobody remembers its content and nobody is asking if maybe the pact requires an update because of the changes in the economic environment in both countries. Instead, we will have to accept a pact that is not necessarily good or bad for Colombia or the U.S., but one that survives the partisan battle – if it does.