Following the Chilean example, Colombia is diversifying its trade relations and negotiating free trade agreements worldwide. Yet, despite the new business opportunities, Colombians desperately cling to the approval of the FTA with the United States. With so many FTAs underway, why is it that the press pays so much attention to the FTA with the USA and lets the others slip right by?
The U.S. is still the most important exports destination for Colombia. According to the CIA’s World Factbook estimate figure, exports to the U.S. account for 42% of the total amount in 2010, far superior to the second export destination, the E.U. with 12.6%. Imports from the US are also very important, accounting for 25.5% for the total, almost double the second import partner China.
The Venezuelan experience showed that depending heavily upon a single market without a standing agreement can be very dangerous to the economy, and Venezuela, traditionally the second export partner of Colombia, is now below Ecuador in terms of trade. The long wait for the FTA to be approved is but another sign of the urgency to diversify the markets.
It has been quite a polemic negotiation because many Colombians argue that the US companies are going to destroy the national economy, that Colombian enterprises will not be able to handle the competition with US companies and that the agricultural sector will pummel because of subsidies to US farmers. Yet, there was not such a vivid opposition to the FTA with Canada, for instance, whose agricultural products could compete in the Colombian market or the FTA with South Korea because of its car industry.
But it’s not only about the economic importance of the US. Many have issued a pride argument: Colombia deserves the agreement because of its longstanding loyalty to the U.S. and because its war on drugs and terror. The FTA is thus seen as a prize to be won for Colombia, as a favor from the U.S. government. This undermines what the U.S. can actually gain by ratifying it, as its exports can improve, benefitting the Colombian consumers.
Also, the other countries haven’t put as many obstacles as the U.S. has. Pressure groups, NGOs and congressmen in the U.S. have stated time and time again that Colombia’s Human Rights record should improve if the agreement is to be considered. Leaving the U.S. moral double standard aside, one could ask how is it that other countries that give great importance to respecting Human Rights, such as Canada and the members of the European Union, conducted easier negotiations and this issue has been a minor one for them. Moreover, Colombia is improving its record. It may not be enough yet, but it’s getting there.
The Colombian embassy in Washington is going to send flowers to every congressman in the U.S. in order to push for the extension of the APTDEA, which was over in February but has always been extended so far. This move is to protect Colombian exporters whose products have become less competitive because of the lack of trade preferences. Sadly, it seems as a desperation move.
As was said in a past column, the U.S. is bent on loosing its influence in the continent and losing influence in Colombia is one of the worst things it can do, as the relations with its strongest ally in South America will become colder and colder. Soon it will be surpassed by someone else as the first trade partner, both in exports and imports, and it may not even notice it, ever focused on the Middle East.