I’ve been trying to decide what to say about this report in the Washington Post about a supposed administration push to pass the South Korea Free Trade Agreement, which has been languishing in purgatory for three years thanks to the post-Clinton Democrats’ protectionist drift. The first words that popped into my head were, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Then I read this post by my friend Juan Carlos Hidalgo about violence in Venezuela vs. Colombia, which really put the whole thing into perspective. I’ll believe the administration is serious about the South Korea FTA as soon as it demonstrates that it can get a no-brainer such as the Colombia FTA through Congress.
The Colombia FTA, in case you’ve forgotten, is an entirely one-sided deal. Colombia already enjoys liberalized access to U.S. markets thanks to the Andean Trade Preference Act and other side-deals we’ve cut with the country in our efforts to help its economy grow out of a dependence on the drug trade. The FTA is all about opening access for our exporters to Colombia’s markets. The union-environmentalist axis that works together to pressure Democrats into opposing all free-trade agreements pressured them into opposing this one on the grounds that there is too much violence in Colombia against union organizers. But as Edward Schumacher-Matos, a former New York Times reporter and visiting Latin American Studies professor at Harvard, wrote in the Boston Globe in 2008, the killings are way down from their peak, and perhaps as few as one-fifth had anything to do with the organizers’ union activities. They mostly happened simply because Colombia was a violent place.
Our ally, President Alvaro Uribe, has done a remarkable job bringing down the level of drug-related violence in Colombia, as Juan Carlos demonstrates with this chart, which also shows the opposite happening in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela:
More than 90 percent of murders go unsolved, without a single arrest, Mr. Briceño-León said. But cases against Mr. Chavez’s critics — including judges, dissident generals and media executives — are increasingly common.
Both the Colombia FTA and the South Korea FTA should have been ratified years ago, but the Democrats’ failure to ratify the Colombia deal, the much easier of the two, indicates to me that whatever the president’s trade representative says, we are not likely to see congressional action on trade anytime soon.