The trade agreement that the United States and Colombia announced last week is good news for both nations and for Florida. The agreement would open up vast new trade opportunities, and a side deal would strengthen labor protections in a nation where unionists and other progressives are harassed, tortured and killed with impunity. Congressional Democrats and union leaders should not block a deal that promotes human rights and the economic and security interests of the hemisphere.
Under the agreement, 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial goods to the third-largest economy in Central and South America would be duty-free immediately. The remaining tariffs would be phased out over 10 years. About half of U.S. farm exports to Colombia would be duty-free immediately, with the remaining duties eliminated within 15 years. The deal would boost U.S. exports to Colombia, now at $12 billion annually, by more than $1 billion, and create thousands of jobs. The pact could especially help South and Central Florida; Colombia is the Port of Tampa's 10th-largest trading partner.
The deal also would advance the social and economic reforms pushed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Colombia would expand security protections for labor activists, put more resources into solving crimes against union members and hire hundreds of new labor inspectors over the next several years. The changes will strengthen Colombia's labor laws and help Santos in his efforts to make the judicial branch more accountable and independent.
The agreement would give Santos new standing within his country to continue with land reforms that are essential for jump-starting agriculture and manufacturing. The pact would better protect U.S. goods from copyright piracy and give the United States more oversight of tens of millions of dollars it has invested in strengthening Colombia's legal system. The deal also sends an important message that Latin America is back on Washington's radar. Congress should embrace the deal.