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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Ambassador Susan Schwab
United States Trade Representative

April 7, 2008

Susan Schwab
Good Afternoon: Today, the President signed implementing legislation to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress for it's consideration. When approved by Congress, this vital agreement will make American workers, farmers and entrepreneurs more competitive by knocking down trade barriers to 44 million potential customers in Colombia. The agreement will also eliminate one-way trade preferences that benefit Colombia, and create permanent, two-way fair trade that benefits us all. Colombia is one of America's closest allies in Latin America and has made significant advancements in the areas of human rights and economic growth. I am happy to answer questions on this critical trade agreement.

Martin, from Sun Prairie, WI writes:
Thanks Ambassador Schwab for taking my question today I would like to know why this free trade agreement with Columbia is so important for our counties relationship.

How will this impact our economy at this time, and benefit their economy?

Have a great day

Susan Schwab
Hi Martin! Thanks for your question. The Colombia FTA is critical for both the United States and Colombia -- for economic reasons as well as national security reasons: Since 1991, Colombia has enjoyed preferential trade access to the U.S. market where 92% of what they ship to us comes in duty free. Under the FTA, U.S. goods and services -- agricultural commodities, manufactured goods, etc. -- would go into Colombia's market duty free. So the free trade agreement would level the playing field, generating new exports and jobs for American workers, farmers and entrepreneurs, and supporting our important Colombian ally by offering stability and opportunities for economic growth.

Cliff, from Brimfield,Ohio writes:
Ambassador Schwab: When I hear the word Columbia. I think of Coffee and Drugs. What other item's will be shared in this trade agreement. I'm not sure just what other comodities they have or offer. Thank You

Susan Schwab
Hello, Cliff. Colombia produces lots of products that they export to us, including coffee, cut flowers (our largest supplier every Valentine's Day!), leather goods and other items. Last year, Colombia exported over $9 billion worth of goods to the United States. We exported over $8 billion to them, but could be exporting more if we also had duty-free access to that market. Under the FTA, tariffs on 80% of what we ship would go to zero immediately, with the rest phasing in. For Colombia, one of the key reasons they want the FTA is that their preferences are temporary and as they try to move farmers away from producing illegal drugs, they need the certainty of access for other products.

Charlene, from Florida writes:
How specifically will the Columbian Free trade agreement be expected to benefit local US economies, particularly state economies?

Susan Schwab
Charlene, thanks for your question. Let’s take Florida for example - recent agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama highlight the special economic relationship between Florida and Latin America. Among all 50 states, Florida is the second-leading exporter (trailing only Texas) to each of these countries with which the United States has recently negotiated free trade agreements.

Florida’s export shipments of merchandise in 2007 were almost $45 billion, up 80 percent from $25 billion in 2003. In 2007, Florida ranked sixth among the states in terms of total exports.

Nationwide, some 9000 U.S. firms export to Colombia -- including 8000 small and mid-sized companies. These would benefit most from the FTA going into effect. Florida’s exports to Colombia accounted for 24 percent of U.S. exports to Colombia in 2007.

Matthew, from Chicago writes:
If a deal is made which allows free trade with Columbia, isn't is possible that thousands of Americans will lose their jobs to foreign competition? Columbian workers will work for less than American workers and tens of thousands of Americans have already lost their jobs.

Susan Schwab
Hi, Matthew. The independent U.S. International Trade Commission did a major analysis of the agreement and estimated that it will increase U.S. exports by $1.1 billion while U.S. imports will go up by $487 million. So on balance it will create many more jobs than may be lost. We recognize that trade can also have a negative impact on some of our citizens and that in those cases the government has a responsibility to help workers obtain the skills to successfully reenter the workforce. The President asked Congress to reform and reauthorize Trade Adjustment Assistance in his State of the Union address in January. Currently, the Administration is actively engaged in discussions on legislation now.

Martin, from Sun Prairie, WI writes:
HI Ambassador Schwab, What does a Free Trade Agreement do for our country? What does a US Trade Representative do?

Thanks for you time.

Susan Schwab
Hello Martin, thank you for your question. Free Trade Agreements open markets by lowering trade barriers. This provides more choices for American consumers and more opportunities to export for American farmers, ranchers and service providers. Over 5 million American jobs depend on exports and for the most part, these jobs pay 13-18% higher than comparable jobs in our country. One in three acres in the U.S. is planted for export. Exports create jobs and income for Americans and U.S. exports to our FTA partners have grown much more rapidly than our exports to the rest of the world.

In this regard, it is also worth noting a recent Department of Commerce report that exports of goods and services were responsible for more than 40 percent of U.S. economic growth last year.

Susan Schwab
It has been a pleasure to talk to you about the importance of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement – both economically and strategically. This is a pivotal time in our relationship with Colombia and Latin America, as well as for our own economy. American workers, farmers and entrepreneurs need this agreement to further fair trade, and this very important Latin American ally needs our commitment to support their progress for peace, freedom and prosperity. We should welcome every chance to deepen and strengthen our commercial ties with them. Thank you.

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