During her confirmation hearings, Hillary Clinton asserted that Colombia would remain on friendly terms with the US whether we approved a free-trade agreement with them or not. The Colombians beg to differ, as Investors Business Daily points out in an editorial today. They look around Latin America and see themselves treated as a second-class friend, and given their efforts on our behalf, they’re starting to get mightily unhappy about it:
Although Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe sent a courteous message to welcome President Obama, Colombian officials have grown frustrated in the last two years, warning Democrats their friendship, which has cost them much blood and treasure, had limits.
Referring to a rejection of free trade, Colombia’s vice president, Francisco Santos, said last year: “Colombia plays such a vital role in the continent for U.S. interests that it would be geostrategic suicide to make a decision like that. I wonder who wants to be the one who loses Colombia like they lost China in the 1950s.”
Also last year, Trade Minister Luis Plata warned IBD that denying free trade to Colombia in a hemisphere full of U.S. free-trade treaties amounted to sanctions on an ally because the other countries with which America has agreements are its competitors.
In Santos’ view, it would be “an insult” and a “slap in the face.” Failure to pass the treaty, he said, “I’m sure will lead to a fundamental repositioning of relations between Colombia and the U.S.”
At the moment, Colombia sends its goods to the US free of tariffs, while Colombia collects a billion dollars on tariffs on imports from America. However, that would be chump change ccompared to the level of US investment possible under a free-trade agreement. They hope to convince investors to build business in their country, which would have the secondary effect of employing people outside of the drug trade, against which they’ve spent billions on our behalf.
The Obama administration will probably say that investors should focus on the US rather than Colombia in these troubled economic times. However, they probably won’t cancel the other FTAs in the region, putting our closest ally in South America at a competitive disadvantage to other, less cooperative trading partners. That will eventually push Colombia away from the US at a vital time when we need them as a counterweight to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and the FARC terrorists that both men fund and support.
After years of difficult reforms and fighting the drug trade and FARC simultaneously, Colombia deserves better treatment than this.