Free trade begins at home


Earlier this month Democrats in the United States House of Representatives managed to delay the establishment of a free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. This protectionist stance reflects the positions taken by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, the two contenders for the Democratic nomination. This is despite the fact that both countries would clearly benefit from the agreement. Robert J Samuelson articulates this well, pointing out the blindingly obvious (though clearly not to many democrats): that this agreement would increase trade, helping U.S. manufacturers.

The decision for the Democrat led house to delay President Bush’s agreement with President Álvaro Uribe Vélez is mired in cheap political opportunism with little thought as to the consequences. The free trade agreement would benefit people in the United States by stripping out Colombia’s tariffs that are as high 35% on cars, 15% on tractors and 10% on computers. This will obviously give U.S. businesses a fairer chance of competing with imports from elsewhere.

The principal benefit for Colombians is different. Colombia's exports already enter the U.S. market duty-free under the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act. For the people of Columbia, the Free Trade agreement offers the permanency that the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act lacks, as the latter has to be renewed leaving businesses uncertain on the future.

Although the Democrats lead the delay on the Trade agreement, there is a split in Democratic Party ideology between Lou Dobbs-style populism and Bill Clinton-style free trade. As such, prominent Democrats have written an open letter to Congress in support of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.

Whether Clinton or Obama are true advocates of protectionism or just posturing for popular appeal, they are undoubtedly damaging the economic prospects of their country. In contrast, straight talking John McCain has the guts and integrity to stand up in Ohio and make the case for free trade to the people. He seems wise enough to know that free trade begins at home.