During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama parroted the Democratic Party line in opposing approval of the free-trade pact with Colombia. After the election, his administration hinted that they would continue opposing it, prompting an Inauguration Week retort from President Alvaro Uribe. After Obama met privately with Uribe at the Summit of the Americas, though, Obama will now press for its approval:
It started Saturday, when he put himself next to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at lunch and then studiously exchanged notes.
Having listened to Uribe, (and that must have been a nice dose of sanity after enduring 50 minutes of ravings from Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, or weird conspiracy theories by Bolivia’s Evo Morales), Obama then seemed to realize that the long-stalled Colombia free trade agreement should have been passed yesterday.
The president announced that his team must find a way to pass the agreement. With world trade down 80%, the pact opens new markets to the U.S. He demanded immediate action, asking Colombia’s trade minister to fly to Washington this week.
Then it got even better: Obama invited Uribe to the White House and promised to visit Colombia himself, allowing the Colombians to lay out for him their vast economic and social progress, and their desire to integrate into global trade.
Our friends at IBD Editorials are delighted with this shift in position. They have pushed tirelessly for passage of the agreement, which the Bush administration unsuccessfully demanded that the Senate ratify for two years. Democrats used the Colombian free-trade agreement as a baseball bat against Republicans in order to paint them as globalists who cared nothing for American jobs.
Uribe may have explained a few basics about the agreement to Obama. In the first place, Colombia has essentially a one-way free-trade agreement with the US anyway. One of the incentives we give Colombia in exchange for their work on drug interdiction is free access to American markets for their goods. The Colombians want to offer America the same access, but only in a formal free-trade agreement that emphasizes a close relationship between the two nations. Colombia wants to be treated as equals, not with condescension.
In other words, as George Bush tried explaining endlessly to obstinate and clueless Democrats, the Colombian free-trade agreement doesn’t risk any American jobs — and in fact will help either create jobs here in the US as exports grow, or at least protect the jobs at risk now in the global downturn. It’s cost-free.
Interestingly, this got no press attention during the Summit last weekend. The New York Times never mentioned it at all. One has to wonder whether the media wants to allow Obama to reverse himself yet again, back to opposition to the agreement, without the embarrassment of vacillation. Let’s hope that Obama sticks with the decision he made this weekend, and hope that this expiration date does not have its own expiration date.
Update: Speaking of expiration dates, Jim Geraghty wants an apology before the applause, and he’s right.