As Congress debates the merits of ratifying free-trade agreements with four countries, many arguments have been advanced from both sides. The politically charged climate on Capitol Hill obscures the underlying rationales favoring the treaties—and, broadly, free trade.
Agreements have been negotiated with Colombia, Panama, Peru and South Korea, each geopolitically and commercially important to the United States.
- Colombia is our closest friend in Latin America. Washington has worked to strengthen U.S.-Colombian ties and to assist Bogotá in eradicating its narcotics production and stabilizing its democracy. Venezuela's autocratic socialist President Hugo Chávez presents an enormous external challenge.
- Panama, created by a U.S.-Colombian treaty in 1903 as an independent entity to construct a Pacific-Atlantic canal, enjoys significant growth and is planning a major expansion of the critical waterway. China sought to become a major factor in the country before the United States ceded control of the canal to Panama in 1999. Hong Kong's Hutchison-Whampoa group has since operated the canal, so crucial to world trade.
- Peru is one of three major centers of cocaine production in South America, with Bolivia and Colombia. President Alan García, elected in 2006, has committed his second term to free-market, democratic policies, in sharp contrast to his 1985–1990 first presidential term, which was characterized by a radical socialist agenda. García has also pledged to cooperate with Washington to replace cocaine production with economically viable, legal agricultural activities.
- South Korea is a linchpin of free-market democratic stability in the Pacific basin, together with Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the somewhat problematic Malaysia. Its precarious position near North Korea and China makes South Korea strategically important to regional peace and stability.
Each of these nations plays a key role, respectively in Latin America and east Asia, for the region as a whole and for the United States.
In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith considered free trade a great boon to the participating nations' economies, workers and consumers. Charles Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, frequently opines that free trade is especially beneficial to unemployed workers in developing countries. Both assessments are correct, as we have witnessed in virtually every free-trade agreement (FTA) enacted by recent administrations.