Paul  Weyrich

The second reason is that TPA would open Colombia's markets to American goods. Colombia's economy is rising, and as it does its consumption power rises. This would provide U.S. farmers and manufacturers an opportunity to sell their goods in Colombia without having to pay the costs of prohibitive tariffs. Such an economic arrangement is always beneficial for American industry but is crucial during a downturn in our economy, when unemployment is on the rise. And it is curious in this regard that union leaders oppose the TPA because its non-implementation weakens the competitiveness of American manufacturing, including many union jobs. For example, as THE WALL STREET JOURNAL noted, Caterpillar Inc. has 8,600 jobs at its two factories in Illinois. It exports more products to Colombia and Peru than to Germany, Japan or the United Kingdom. The main reason for this is the extensive silver and coal mining industries in the two countries. For Caterpillar retaining and growing its share of the equipment market in Colombia is important, so the elimination of tariffs would immediately benefit the company.

The third reason to support the TPA is that Colombia has made much progress since the election of its current President, Álvaro Uribe, in 2002. Uribe, a Harvard-educated lawyer with a tremendous work ethic and disciplined lifestyle, drastically has improved Colombia. Prior to his presidency, Colombia had a reputation as a fearsome haven for drug lords and the narco-terrorism of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Uribe used his widespread popularity to curb the power and influence of these two groups and to demobilize the paramilitaries operating in Colombia. He has helped clean up Medellín, the most violent city in Colombia and home to the Medellín Drug Cartel led by Pablo Escobar in the 1990s. In 2005 it had the lowest homicide rate, 35 per 100,000, it had had for 20 years and the lowest of any large city in Colombia. It was even lower than that of Baltimore. Unemployment has decreased as well and the City is now a thriving industrial center. Uribe deserves much credit for the way he has turned Colombia around.

Finally, Colombia is a friendly, democratic country that has made great improvements in the past six years. Its progress is in marked contrast to the regression of its neighbor Venezuela, which is under the control of Hugo Chávez, a hostile and brutal dictator. Chávez's goal is to destabilize the region to increase his own power. To that end, he has funneled money to Colombia's narco-terrorist groups. The United States has a responsibility to strength our economic and diplomatic ties with Colombia and the TPA would provide both a symbolic victory and an economic one.

It is a shame that Speaker Pelosi is playing politics with a vital trade agreement. The Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement should be passed immediately. It would be both an economic and a diplomatic disaster for the United States should Congress fail to ratify it. We can ill-afford such high-handed political maneuvers.

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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