Wednesday, September 17, 2008

U.S.-Colombia FTA update

We are in the midst of a big Colombian lobbying push for a free trade agreement. The timing is not very good, because with the election looming, many in Congress will not be particularly interested in getting stuck in a lengthy and contentious debate. However, they hope to get it passed in a lame duck session, which then takes it out of the hands of the next president. It also may be a bargaining chip by Democrats to get a second stimulus package passed.

Nonetheless, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) sent a signal that no FTA will be forthcoming this year. He is the chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, and sent a letter to Uribe asking about the murder of labor leaders. One quote:

"One advantage stemming from our Congress´ decision to postpone the vote regarding the proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement is that it has given my colleagues and me additional time needed to assess whether or not Colombia has in fact created an effective and sustainable system of justice to combat anti-labor violence," wrote Miller. "I hope that this ongoing fact-finding work will allow Congress to provide helpful recommendations to the next administration in the United States over how we can further strengthen our nation´s relationship with Colombia in such a way that promotes increased trade and higher labor standards."

So nothing will happen until the "next administration." Apparently both labor leaders and trade lobbyists believe that passage of an FTA is more likely with Obama than with McCain because Democrats will have a majority in Congress, and labor would be under pressure to work with the former but not the latter. However, that argument rests on the assumption that an Obama administration would push for an FTA. I'm not so sure that is the case, but trade lobbyists seem to believe it.

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