Obama Votes ‘Present’ on Colombia Trade Deal

by Patrick Christy

Ahead of his trip to Latin America, President Obama writes in today’s USA Today:

Thanks in part to our trade agreements across the region, we now export three times as much to Latin America as we do to China, and our exports to the region — which are growing faster than our exports to the rest of the world — will soon support more than 2 million jobs here in the United States.

But despite President Obama’s admission that hemispheric trade is beneficial to American exporters, there is one key omission in the president’s op-ed: the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. To be fair, the president is not visiting America’s top ally in the region, an admission perhaps, that such a stop would be “humiliating” to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos without a free trade agreement. But the president does note that “every $1 billion we export [to Latin America] supports more than 5,000 jobs here at home,” making Colombia’s lack of mention nothing short of perplexing. Recall just last week, Democratic senator Max Baucus noted American farmers alone have lost $1 billion in sales to Colombia over the past two years.

Merits of the Colombia trade deal are well documented. Most recently, a group of 19 influential former government officials who served six U.S. presidents wrote that “failure to ratify these agreements will further diminish U.S. exports and market share in Latin America and lead to further loss of U.S. jobs. The record of the last several years clearly supports this view.”

The president’s visit also comes at a time when Latin America continues to emerge as an important player in the global economy, attracting notable investments from around the world, most notably China. Though the president’s itinerary omits Colombia, stops in Chile and Brazil come at a critical juncture — China has replaced the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner and doubled trade with Chile. Sen. John Kerry explained so much to trade ambassador Ron Kirk, saying that while American “politics hold us back, the world moves on.”

President Obama noted that “strengthening these partnerships will advance the common prosperity and common security of all our people, creating new jobs and new growth across the hemisphere . . .” But after ignoring Latin America for two years, he will need more than a quick trip to send such a signal to the region. Colombia remains a steadfast ally and key South American market for American goods. Unfortunately, President Obama continues to miss this important opportunity. Simply, as Sen. Max Baucus eloquently noted: “This is no-brainer.”

— Patrick Christy is a policy analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative.