Support the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia !

Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times today, “Better Roses than Cocaine,” says it all. There is no good reason for the US Congress to continue to hold up the free trade agreement that the Administration has negotiated with Colombia.

Free trade with Colombia can’t have anything to do with loss of US jobs: Colombia’s exports already enter the US duty-free. Rather, the Free Trade Agreement would reduce remaining Colombian barriers to imports from the US. It could contribute (a bit) to a surge in US exports worldwide, which in turn could once again become the engine of US growth that it was in the 1990s.

Nor would free trade with Colombia be bad for human rights in that violent country. No government is perfect. But the Uribe government offers the best hope of bringing some measure of peace, prosperity and justice to Colombia. It is fighting against the guerillas and drugs. It wants to give farmers some security, for example, so that they know they have an assured US export market in cut flowers to replace the risky business of growing coca for cocaine. It deserves our support.

American labor unions raise the issue of killings of Colombian union leaders. But this is a weak reason to oppose the FTA. For one thing, the odds of being killed if you are a union leader in Colombia are now less than the odds of being killed if you are a regular citizen.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the main reason Congressmen are opposing the Colombian free trade agreement is to pander to ill-informed American public opinon. (Of course the White House would have been better-advised to concentrate its energies and political capital on the multilateral level, the WTO, rather than on the negotiation of myriad bilateral FTAs with small countries. But this is an argument of economists and policy wonks. No politicians are opposing the Colombian agreement on these grounds.)

Kristof concludes with a challenge to Democrats. “Democrats instinctively criticize Bush when he harms America’s standing in the world.” I assume he has in mind Kyoto, Guantanamo, Abu Graib, land mines treaty, International Criminal Court, nuclear weapons policy, energy policy, steel tariffs, and other economic missteps I could list (see The International Economy). He continues, “But a test of intellectual honesty is your willingness to hold your own side to the same standard and to point out pandering in those politicians you normally admire.”

He is right. Hillary and Barack: if you are listening, SUPPORT THE COLOMBIAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT! Everybody else: read Kristof.