Implementing the Colombia Free Trade Agreement – Now the Work Begins

During President Obama’s recent participation in the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, he announced that the Colombia-U.S. free trade agreement would enter into force in the United States on May 15 of this year, following Congress’s passage of the FTA in October 2011.

We should not forget that most Colombian exports already enter the U.S. duty free under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Therefore, many of the economic benefits from the Colombia-US FTA will accrue to U.S. business as a result of improved market access in Colombia. However, the Colombia-FTA will increase Colombia’s exports and should stimulate U.S. investment in Colombia, resulting in economic growth and jobs.

In addition to the benefits of the FTA in terms of increased trade and investment, the Colombia-U.S. FTA needs to be understood as a comprehensive framework for addressing a full range of bilateral trade and economic issues, from investment to telecoms regulation, to protecting the environment and labor rights. For instance, labor rights groups are concerned that Colombia has not done enough to implement its commitments in the Action Plan Related to Labor Rights and the FTA’s labor chapter. Although Colombia has made important progress on labor rights including establishing a Labor Ministry and passing legislation to prosecute employers who undermine labor rights, labor rights advocates argue that this is not enough. Now, however, the U.S. government can work through the Labor Affairs Council created in the FTA to develop a cooperative work program with the Colombian government to address current and future labor rights issues.

More broadly, working within the FTA framework will allow U.S. and Colombian officials to develop greater trust and understanding of each other and to build a constructive and forward looking economic partnership. And if issues do arise, the U.S. can always resort to dispute settlement under the FTA if it believes that Colombia has failed to comply with its FTA commitments.