A trade pact between the United States and Colombia has suddenly become a big issue in the American elections campaign.
Contrary to their earlier votes on trade agreements, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama now oppose a trade agreement with Colombia—an agreement that President Bush recently submitted to Congress for approval.
The majority leader of the House of Representatives, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, has said that for the time being the agreement will not come up for a vote.
What’s going on? A significant part of the electorate in states such as Pennsylvania and Indiana, where Democrats will shortly hold their primaries, consists of factory workers who work in traditional industries. Those men with the “blue collars” think it is a disgrace that their jobs are being “globalized away.” They and their unions are therefore strongly opposed to free trade.
In order to placate these voters, Obama and Clinton act suddenly more protectionist than they really are.
A grain of salt
Obama had to fire an assistant after the staff member informed the Canadian government that the senator’s skepticism over NAFTA–the free trade agreement between America, Canada and Mexico—should be taken with a grain of salt. Once president, Obama would take a more liberal position.
For Clinton, this matter was even more painful. She saw herself forced to fire her campaign manager Mark Penn. Penn’s PR company received millions of dollars from Clinton to manage her campaign, but—as came to light last week—he also received a considerable sum of money from the Colombian government for the purpose of advising her on how to navigate the trade pact through Congress. Penn was even present during that deliberation.
For that matter, Bill Clinton remains a supporter of free trade with Colombia.”In a marriage, it’s rare for the partners to always think the same,” said Hillary. And that is of course so.
There is no reason to break NAFTA, which has provided for 30 million additional jobs in America since 1994, open and to think that the United States will achieve better results. On the other side, the agreement with Colombia will do little more for that country than maintain the status quo.
Most Colombian products already enter America duty free. On the other hand, there is frequently a significant tariff on American exports to Bogota. The agreement would remove the one-sided advantage Colombia has.
The idealistic argument made by American trade union leaders that union members in Colombia are constantly exposed to violence is flimsy. Colombia is indeed still a violent country, but the number of murders has decreased considerably during recent years. According to a Harvard professor, in 2007 there were eight times fewer murders among trade union members than among average Colombians. President Alvaro Uribe has achieved stunning results against the drug cartels, the rightist militias and the Marxist FARC.
John McCain is a confirmed “free-trader.” The two parties have not been that far apart on this point since 1932. But the roles have been reversed, because then the Herbert Hoover Republicans pleaded for high tariff barriers, while the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrats pleaded for low ones.