President Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will approve an “action plan” on labor rights today that had held up the free trade pact since it was negotiated in 2007.
Without deals on all three trade pacts, Senate Republicans had vowed to block confirmation of a new Commerce secretary and other trade measures.
Administration officials said Colombia’s agreement to improve legal protections for labor leaders and union organizers in the violence-torn nation cleared the way for the trade deal.
The International Trade Commission estimates Colombian tariff reductions will expand U.S. exports by $1.1 billion and the U.S. economy by $2.5 billion a year. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said “the impact on American jobs should be creative and positive.”
U.S. farmers will be among the top beneficiaries. Morethan half of current U.S. farm exports to Colombia will become duty-free immediately. Other big winners: heavy equipment manufacturers, such as Caterpillar.
The deal comes as nations such as China and Argentina have expanded their exports to Colombia.
The breakthrough was hailed by business leaders and Republicans in Congress. Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “We can’t afford further delay. Other nations are racing to clinch their own trade deals with Colombia and put American workers at a competitive disadvantage.”
Labor leaders and key Democrats in Congress said the plan doesn’t go far enough to address labor and human rights issues in Colombia, which the AFL-CIO calls “the most deadly nation in the world in which to be a trade unionist.” More than 2,850 union workers have been murdered in the past 25 years, including 51 last year.
“These problems are deeply ingrained, and they cannot be solved by commitments on a piece of paper,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.
Obama opposed the Colombia deal during his 2008 presidential campaign. But now he’s eager to promote U.S. exports. Last year he set a goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years.
Among signs of progress:
•The revised trade deal with South Korea, the seventh-largest U.S. trading partner, is intended to increase exports by $10 billion a year and support about 70,000 U.S. jobs.
•New business deals with China are worth more than $45 billion in increased exports and 235,000 U.S. jobs.