Colombia sees gains in jobs, drug war from U.S.
(Reuters) - A U.S.-Colombia free trade pact that
faces a battle in Congress next year could help
both nations fight drug trafficking and boost
employment in the Andean country, a Colombian
trade official said on Thursday.
"A sound and
formal economy will be the most powerful
incentive to keep our people from being involved
in undesirable activities," said Hernando Jose
Gomez, Colombia's chief negotiator in the
The United States
has poured more than $3 billion in mainly
military aid since 2000 into Colombia, which
produces most of the world's cocaine.
the agreement to increase its legal exports to
the United States by more than $1 billion over
the first three years of the pact, with $826
million of that coming from the industrial and
mining sector and $191 million from agriculture,
Gomez said at a U.S. International Trade
Commission hearing on the economic impact of the
U.S. exports to
Colombia should increase even more, by $1.63
billion over the first three years, with almost
a third of that coming from the U.S. farm
sector, he said.
its door to more imports, Colombia expects the
agreement to boost job opportunities.
unemployment rate, currently at 10.4 percent,
could decline 2 percentage points over the next
five years as a result of the pact, Gomez said.
U.S. labor groups
are expected to mount a major battle to stop the
agreement because Colombia has a long history of
violence against trade union members.
anti-union violence has fallen dramatically in
recent years as the result of the $25 million
the Colombian government spends annually to
protect union members.
Union leaders are
safer in Colombia than they would be in some
U.S. cities, based on a comparison of murder
rates, but the government is open to suggestions
about how it could improve the situation, Gomez
The American Farm
Bureau Federation and the National Pork
Producers Council strongly endorsed the
agreement, but the R-CALF beef trade group told
the ITC panel it was concerned Colombia could
flood the U.S. market with beef if current
animal disease restrictions are lifted.
reporters Colombia hoped to formally sign the
agreement with United States late next month.
Since Congress is
not expected to vote on the pact until 2007,
Colombia needs a temporary extension of
long-time U.S. trade benefits that expire at the
end of this year, he said.