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Carlos Gutierrez
Carlos Gutierrez
Secretary of Commerce

May 7, 2008

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you for joining me today to discuss the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the May 10, 2007 agreement forged between the Bush Administration and Democratic Congressional leaders. On that day a commitment was made to advance all four FTAs then pending before Congress, including Colombia, to a vote. While we were pleased that the Peru FTA was passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan manner last year, the agreement with Colombia, which is very similar to the Peru agreement, remains mired in Congress.

The FTA with Colombia is good for America’s economy, security and foreign policy, and will do more to strengthen Colombia’s democracy and stability than anything else we can do today. Failure of Congress to act is a disappointment not only to governments here and in Colombia, but to the more than 9,000 American exporters to Colombia and the thousands of workers whose jobs rely on those exports. It will immediately eliminate tariffs on American exports; add good paying jobs in both countries; and make our nations better partners and closer allies.

We have already waited too long. Now is the time to act, to turn our good words into good deeds because it will make a positive difference in the lives of so many.

I will be happy to take your questions.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Gutierrez: Have we not always traded with Columbia? or does this new trade agreement have something new for both sides? Thank You

Carlos Gutierrez
Cliff, while it is true that we have a growing and important trading relationship with Colombia, American farmers, companies and workers could be doing far better with this agreement in hand. While the U.S. Congress has given Colombia virtually duty free access to Colombia’s largest export market—the United States—for more than 16 years this agreement will make that access permanent and for the first time secure virtually duty-free access for American exporters to Colombia, increasing our exports and creating more jobs. These measures will also give added confidence to investors and businesses in both countries and implement ground-breaking labor provisions in Colombia that are part of the FTA.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Sec. Gutierrez, What is the status of the House taking up a vote on the Columbia Free Trade Agreement? I find it incredible that Speaker Pelosi would prevent such an important componant of international trade from ocurring. What has been Columbia's reaction on the delay? Thank You

Carlos Gutierrez
Kim, you are not the only one that finds recent steps taken by Democratic House leadership on this issue incredible. We have searched high and low to find a major media outlet that supports Speaker Pelosi’s inaction on this vote and we cannot find one. However, newspapers across the country have editorialized in favor of a vote and former leaders from both political parties have spoken out in favor of a vote. We agree that Congress should not abandon a key American ally in need for the benefit of narrow, partisan, special interests.

What we do know is that in a time of slower domestic growth exports are an increasingly important bright spot in our economy. The best way to improve the environment for exporters is to lower trade barriers, and that can be done effectively with free trade agreements. Since the FTA with Colombia was sent to Congress, $1 billion dollars in tariffs have been paid on American exports to Colombia, all of which would have been eliminated by the FTA. We cannot afford to wait, and neither can Colombia.

As far as Colombia’s reaction, it seems to be one of frustration. Just over a year ago the Administration and Congress agreed on a way forward on all the free trade agreements that were pending. All the countries, including Colombia, made tough decisions to implement changes with the expectation that their agreement would be considered by Congress.

If Congress does not act in accordance with expectations, it will be inconsistent with precedent, undermine America’s global leadership, and potentially disappoint our allies.

Jeff, from Los Angeles, Calif. writes:
Dear Secretary Gutierrez- Thank you for your service to our nation. After learning more about the Columbian Trade Agreement, it seems like it would only increase U.S. exports and have little or no negatives. It appears that American jobs would be MADE, not taken away by the CFTA, in addition to helping prop up an American ally in South America. Why do many Americans oppose the Agreement? It surely seems like it would only benefit the U.S. and Columbia.

Carlos Gutierrez
Jeff, thank you, it is an honor to serve this nation and President Bush. Your assessment is correct. This agreement is good for our economy, for Colombia’s, and for our hemisphere. Our farmers will be helped with a reduction in tariffs on their crops; our workers will benefit from additional jobs created by exports; and our manufacturers will see tariffs slashed on machinery, chemicals, electronics and hundreds of other world-class goods our nation produces and the world needs.

Some have objected to the agreement on the ground that not enough has been done to protect unionists and the environment in Colombia. The fact is that violence against all Colombians is a great concern of the United States and those who want to see a stable and prosperous Colombia. We have made a significant contribution towards Colombia’s efforts to reduce violence, grow their economy and make strides in healthcare and education through Plan Colombia, and this program is working. For example, violence has been dramatically lowered throughout the country, and the murder of labor leaders dropped by nearly 83 percent since President Uribe took office in 2002—in fact, the murder rate for union members is now lower than the rate for the population as a whole.

The FTA is the best way to secure greater rights for workers, improve environmental standards and enhance stability in Colombia—but it won’t if the agreement is not implemented, and it won’t be implemented if Congress fails to approve it. So while Congress waits, Colombians continue to fight terrorism and drug traffickers, American exporters remain hobbled, and the environmental and labor provisions in the FTA remain unimplemented, helping nothing and no one.

Jim, from Wheaton, Maryland writes:
How likely is it that the Bush Administration will agree that Congress take up the three pending free trade agreements -- with Colombia, Sout Korea and Panama -- after the Presidential elections -- perhaps in a lame-duck session? Jim of Wheaton

Carlos Gutierrez
The sooner Congress acts on these agreements Jim, the better off our country will be, as well as Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Now is the time to act: these agreements have been before Congress for more than 500 days and have been waiting under the terms of the May 10, 2007 agreement for nearly a year, yet Congress has failed to take up its responsibility to act. During this time U.S. exports to Colombia have unnecessarily been subject to more than $1 billion in tariffs.

The world is watching for signals to see if the United States is in the global economy, or is actually backing away from its leadership position. So while Congress does nothing, our exports are slapped with tariffs, the agreement remains unimplemented and the vacuum left by inaction is filled by destabilizing forces in the region. One thing is certain though: other countries won’t wait for us to act. They will continue to pursue free trade agreements with Colombia. If Colombians don’t buy our wheat, they’ll by it from Canada; if they can’t buy our tractors, Japanese firms will sell them theirs, and if they don’t purchase our electronics they’ll get them from China.

John, from Texas writes:
Obviously free trade with Columbia if done right would be good for everybody. But there are still problems with enforcement of workers' rights and intimidation of union organisers. What's the rush to implement it instead of making sure it's done right?

Maybe tariffs could be relieved industry by industry as each industry proves it lives up to international standards for workers. We would still be supporting our Columbian allies while helping its citizens to improve their economic life.

It shouldn't just be a straight yes or no proposition.

Carlos Gutierrez
John, thanks for your important questions. We believe this agreement is the right way to move forward and that each day we wait is a day when its important provisions concerning workers rights, the environment, investment, trade, tariffs, transparency and more won’t be in force. These are comprehensive agreements negotiated in accordance with rules set by Congress in “fast track” authority where Congress agrees to accept—or reject—the agreement as a whole.

The government of Colombia has already made tremendous strides in not only protecting labor leaders but prosecuting those responsible for past violence. Every day that Congress stalls at the behest of narrow special interests, more damage is done and it becomes less likely the benefits of this agreement will be fully realized. This is more than a missed opportunity for growth—it is a step backwards that pleases only those who want to return to the unsuccessful protectionist policies of the past.

While this would hurt the U.S. economy at a time when we need the boost that FTAs bring, for Colombia, not having this agreement would be a devastating blow to an emerging democracy and an American ally at a time when they are most vulnerable. Indeed, with countries like Peru, Chile and Central America having FTAs, denying Colombia an FTA now would put them at a disadvantage, leading by some estimates to the loss of nearly 400,000 jobs there.

The FTAs now pending before Congress have very strong environmental provisions as well, far stronger than any previous FTAs. When the Colombian government took the unprecedented steps of opening up these agreements and adding environmental and labor provisions they were promised a vote not just by the Administration but by the Congressional leaders a year ago. Many of those same leaders are now changing the rules of the game by denying a date for consideration of the Colombia FTA. We will continue to point out these facts and push for the right policies for our country and for what was promised to our friends and allies.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you all for your thoughtful questions, which are examples of the strong interest in the Colombia FTA across the United States. I hope this dialogue has added to your understanding of the tremendous advantage its implementation has for our country, our hemisphere, and the world in which we live.

Those who care about these issues need to make their voices heard, to make it clear what is at stake, and why passing this agreement with Colombia is urgently needed now.

Thank you for your interest—for updates on all the pending free trade agreements please visit