Flowers for Harleys: The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Comes into Effect

Five years after its proposal, the trade agreement between the United States and Colombia came into force on May 15 with the export of Colombian flowers to the United States and an expected shipment of Harley-Davidson motorcycles to Colombia. It was a topic of contention at the 2012 Summit of the Americas that took place in the Colombian city of Cartagena: Will the free trade agreement fulfill the mutual benefits that boosters prophesy?

Proposed during the Bush administration, the free trade agreement (FTA) has been down a slow and winding road. With political divisions between Colombian President Juan Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, and the recent prostitution scandal that took place at the summit, the announcement that the agreement had finally come into force is a positive step for the Colombian government.

The recent shift, too, towards protectionism in Latin American countries such as Brazil and Argentina further places positive emphasis on the announcement of the trade agreement. According to The Economist, fears of Asian competition have led countries in Latin America to turn away from agreements and Mercosur relationships suggesting that free trade with the United States will benefit Colombia at a time when trade relationships elsewhere are facing pressure.

The agreement has, however, faced much criticism. The BBC reported that U.S. labor groups fear the agreement will lead to job losses at a time when workers can least afford it whilst Colombian Trade Unions fear Colombia is not yet developed enough to withstand such competition. Only seven months ago Colombian agriculture minister Juan Camilo Restrepo discussed the need to prepare small businesses and producers so that “when the cold shower of the FTA hits them, it doesn’t turn into pneumonia.” Is Colombia ready to open its doors to the United States?

TripleCrisis’s Kevin Gallagher suggests not. Arguing that Colombia will have to work twice as hard as the United States to benefit at all from the FTA, Gallagher uses the findings of the 2007 Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean to predict losses for Colombia in areas of “textiles, apparel, food, and heavy manufacturing industries, outweighing the gains from increased petroleum, mining, and other exports to the United States.”

The Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the United States is presented as an opportunity for increased foreign investment in Colombia; whether or not the agreement will actually benefit Colombia in the way that it hopes still remains to be seen.

Further Reading:

“United States Must Redefine Fair Trade,” Devin Stewart, Policy Innovations

“Drop the Free-Trade Blinders,” Dani Rodrik, Policy Innovations

“Pragmatic Overdose: Ethics and creativity are stifled in the draft... Evan O’Neil, Policy Innovations

“A Human Rights Argument For The Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” Susan Rice, Carnegie Council

“Marrying Trade and Human Rights,” Susan Aaronson, Policy Innovations

“Local Produce Vs Global Trade,” Adam Dean, Policy Innovations

Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America, Enrique Krause, Carnegie Council Public Affairs

[PHOTO CREDIT: Philip Bouchard (CC).]

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Tags: agriculture, development, diplomacy, globalization, trade

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