Good morning. I would like to welcome all of you, especially Colombian Ambassador Silva, to our first Trade Subcommittee hearing of the 112th Congress. Today’s hearing is the first in a series of three hearings we will hold on the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. This continues the examination the full Committee began in its hearings on January 25 and February 9. In this first of our hearings, we examine the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
It is important to understand today’s hearing in the context of the full series of hearings we will be holding. I strongly believe that we should consider all three agreements by July 1. I hope that the President has heard the repeated bipartisan calls from Congress to move forward promptly with all three of these agreements, rather than leaving one or another to lag behind. These are all good agreements. The time to move forward with all three is now.
Why the sense of urgency? The answer is simple. While the Administration delays, America is being left behind. Take the case of Colombia. We concluded our trade agreement with Colombia in June 2007 – going on four years ago! Other countries have taken advantage of our delay. They have moved aggressively to sign trade agreements with Colombia. As a result, many U.S. exporters now operate at a competitive disadvantage. They’re forced to pay higher tariffs on exports to Colombia than do exporters from some of our key competitors. The U.S. share of Colombia’s agricultural imports plummeted from 71 percent to 27 percent in just the two years since the agricultural provisions of the Colombia-MERCOSUR trade agreement went into effect. The direct cause of that dramatic decline is our failure to implement our trade agreement.
It will only get worse if we delay further: The Canada-Colombia trade agreement is expected to enter into force by July 1. Colombia’s agreement with the EU is also expected to enter into force this year. Colombia’s rapidly concluding its negotiations with South Korea. Implementation of agreements by these other countries, and continued inaction on our agreement, will result in further missed opportunities to create U.S. jobs. In fact, it will result in a decline in existing U.S. jobs. We either move forward, or we move backward. The choice is ours. Staying still is just not an option.
I have stressed repeatedly how troubled I am by the Administration’s long failure to advance a Latin trade agenda. I am holding out hope that the President’s departure this Saturday for Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador – his first trip to South and Central America as President – will mark the beginning of reengagement with the region. But where is Colombia on the President’s agenda? Where is Panama? The Administration’s foot-dragging on these agreements – its shabby treatment of these two important friends and trading partners – is noticed by all our neighbors. It threatens to undermine U.S. leadership in our hemisphere. In the face of our inattention, our neighbors are forced to look elsewhere for dependable economic and geopolitical alliances.
The consequences of such a plunge in our influence would extend not only to economic losses but also to our national security. Colombia is a strategic ally in the war on drugs. Colombia is also a steadfast, democratic friend in a region that includes several increasingly undemocratic and anti-American leaders – like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. We need to stand with our friends. And we should start by moving forward with the Colombia trade agreement and our other two pending trade agreements, by July 1.
I respect the views of the Ranking Member and the Administration about labor violence and labor rights, although I believe that Colombia’s dramatic improvements justify Congressional consideration. However, to the extent that some believe that more progress is necessary, it is only fair that they identify specifically what they would like to see, an action plan for achieving that goal, and a timetable for completing it promptly. Failure to do so is merely keeping the agreement in limbo forever. I hope that is not their goal.
I would like to welcome all of our witnesses today and thank them for being with us. I look forward to hearing the testimony of both panels.