Colombian exports causing controversy

April 8, 2008 12:22:29 AM PDT
The free trade agreement with Colombia that caused the shake-up in the Clinton campaign will be hotly debated in congress. It's a question of balancing human rights issues with economic opportunity, here and there.

The free trade agreement President Bush signed Monday has to be ratified by Congress within 90 days and it's certain to face opposition over Colombia's recent history of anti-labor violence.

However, many business groups see an opportunity to boost exports. The agreement calls for the reduction or elimination of most tariffs.

"Colombia hasn't historically been a real big market for us, but when we look at the potential to see the tariffs, whch are now between five and 80 percent, reduced down to nothing on prime and choice cuts, which are our highest quality products, then that does have the potential to increase the number of products that we would see going in there," says Vice President of the California Cattlemen's Association Matt Byrne.

California's agriculture stand to gain the most from lower Colombian tariffs and so does the wine industry.

Last year, nearly half of the state's exports to California were computers or electronics, followed by chemicals, machinery and transportation equipment. A mixture of other goods made up 28 percent of exports.

"We've already had conversations with the consul general of Colombia, in terms of beginning to look at how we can develop programs that would help their businesses understand what our companies are interested in terms of exporting," says President of the Bay Area World Trade Center In Oakland, Jose Duenas.

Bay Area exports to Colombia totaled $21.7 million dollars last year, dwarfed by imports of $431 million. Balancing that could be good for the U.S. economy.

"Leveling the playing field for American exporters is especially important during this time of economic uncertainty. Last year, exports accounted for more than 40 percent of America's total economic growth," says President Bush.

However, human rights groups say Colombia's record shouldn't be ignored.

"I think it's a beginning to laying the foundation to begin to deal with some of those human rights, environmental and labor issues," says Duenas.


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