The Colombia free trade pact will help the U.S. every bit as much as it will Colombia -- in some ways, more. The overwhelming majority of Colombia's exports to the U.S. -- 90 percent -- already are free of tariffs, but our exports to Colombia face heavy tariffs of up to 35 percent -- and depending on the product, sometimes much more -- for everything from consumer goods to agriculture. If Congress acts favorably on the agreement, 85 percent of our industrial and consumer exports will be tariff-free, and eventually 100 percent of our exports will be. Now, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is threatening not to allow a vote on the issue at all, jeopardizing not just this agreement, but our ability to negotiate future trade agreements, as well.
A secure and economically viable Colombia helps us in many ways. The U.S. faces unfriendly governments in several Latin American countries, most notably Venezuela under the dictator Hugo Chavez. We need all the friends we can get in the region -- and rejecting the Colombia agreement will be a real slap in the face of a strong ally. President Uribe has cracked down on narco-traffickers, seizing 500 metric tons of cocaine in 2006 alone -- and these groups wreak havoc not only by financing terrorism in their home country, but flooding our inner cities with drugs that breed crime and corruption.
Instead of firing their campaign advisers because they made the candidates look like hypocrites, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should rethink their own positions on free trade. Clinton has previously made some sensible statements on the issue, and one of her husband's few major accomplishments in office was winning approval of NAFTA. And Obama is too smart a fellow to not realize that what he says about NAFTA and the Colombia agreement is utter nonsense. But I won't hold my breath for either of them to show real leadership by rejecting protectionism.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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