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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Economic and Political Implications

M. Angeles Villarreal
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Implementing legislation for a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) (H.R. 5724/S. 2830) was introduced in the 110th Congress on April 8, 2008 under Title XXI (Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002) of the Trade Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-210). The House leadership took the position that the President had submitted the legislation to implement the agreement without adequately fulfilling the requirements of Trade Promotion Authority. On April 10 the House voted 224-195 to make certain provisions in § 151 of the Trade Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-618), the provisions establishing expedited procedures, inapplicable to the CFTA implementing legislation (H.Res. 1092). It is currently unclear whether or how the 111th Congress will consider implementing legislation for the pending U.S.-Colombia FTA. 

The agreement would immediately eliminate duties on 80% of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products to Colombia. An additional 7% of U.S. exports would receive duty-free treatment within five years of implementation and most remaining tariffs would be eliminated within ten years of implementation. The agreement also contains provisions for market access to U.S. firms in most services sectors; protection of U.S. foreign direct investment in Colombia; intellectual property rights protections for U.S. companies; and enforceable labor and environmental provisions. 

The United States is Colombia's leading trade partner. Colombia accounts for a very small percentage of U.S. trade (0.8% in 2009), ranking 22nd among U.S. export markets and 27th as a source of U.S. imports. About 90% of U.S. imports from Colombia enter the United States duty free, while U.S. exports to Colombia face duties of up to 20%. Economic studies on the impact of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA) have found that, upon full implementation of an agreement, the impact on the United States would be positive but very small because the size of the Colombian economy is very small when compared to that of the United States (about 1.6%). 

Numerous Members of Congress oppose the CFTA because of concerns about the violence against labor union activists in Colombia. President Bush's Administration believed that Colombia had made significant advances to combat violence and instability and views the pending trade agreement as a national security issue in that it would strengthen a key democratic ally in South America. 

President Barack Obama met with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House on June 29, 2009. After the meeting, President Obama stated that he had asked the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to work closely with Colombian government representatives to see how the two countries could move forward on the pending agreement. President Obama commended Colombia for its progress in addressing the violence against labor union leaders. In March 2010, USTR Ron Kirk stated that the Obama Administration is working on developing a finite list of proposals to give to Colombia to resolve the issues that blocked congressional approval of a free trade agreement with the United States and that the proposals would likely be related to worker rights protection and the issue of persecution in Colombia. The Obama Administration also stated in March 2010 that the pending FTAs with Colombia, Korea, and Panama are important to U.S. national security, each for different reasons, because national security depends on economic security and U.S. competitiveness. For Colombia, a free trade agreement with the United States is part of its overall economic development strategy.

Date of Report: April 16, 2010
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: RL34470
Price: $29.95

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