Reinsch Remains Cautiously Optimistic About Congressional Action on Colombia FTA
Washington, DC – National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) President Bill Reinsch spoke today to the Citigroup Latin American Professionals Forum in Miami, Fla., during which he discussed the political dynamics driving U.S. trade policy toward Latin America and the future of hemispheric relations. In his remarks, Reinsch offered his perspective on bilateral agreements pending congressional approval, including the free trade agreements the United States negotiated with Colombia and Panama.
“Creating a stable, open business environment in Latin America is the bottom line trade policy goal of my organization’s members, which are U.S. based companies that operate globally,” said NFTC President Bill Reinsch. “This goal is reflected in the mosaic of Free Trade Agreements and preference programs that we have sought in the region over the last fifteen years. Unfortunately, despite some successes, we are as far from achieving that goal as we have ever been.”
Reinsch chronicled the history of U.S.-Latin America trade relations from policies set in the 1980s and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of the 1990s to the more recent Dominican Republic-Central America- U.S. Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and bilateral pacts with Chile, Peru, Panama and Colombia. “Gradually the U.S. has sought to move from a client-patron trading relationship to granting unilateral tariff preferences to our more recent effort to create bilateral free trade agreements, which recognize that Latin American nations are competing in the global economy on a more equal footing,” said Reinsch.
He discussed how trade liberalization in Latin America has helped to boost U.S. exports and expand mutually beneficial bilateral trade with nations in the region, but said, “…some in Congress and a growing segment of the public are taking a different view. They view these agreements as exporting American jobs to the south.”
“The political reality we all have to face is that trade accelerates change and creates winners and losers. However, the gains tend to be long term and diffuse and the losses short term and specific. And in politics, whether you are in Washington, Caracas, or Buenos Aires, long term and diffuse gains are generally overshadowed by short term and specific pain,” said Reinsch. “And let me be clear: the pain is not imaginary. Real jobs are being lost, and a growing segment of our population is uncertain about its future. What is missing in the public equation is cause and effect. Trade grows; jobs are lost, but that does not mean the former caused the latter, although none of our countries are short of politicians making that link.”
In addition, Reinsch made note of the 2008 U.S. presidential election and its influence on candidates’ rhetoric about trade, especially with respect to NAFTA and the U.S.-Colombia trade pact. “At this point I remain an optimist – perhaps a naïve one – because I think the agreement will ultimately be approved but I cannot, today, describe a clear path for getting there,” Reinsch said of the potential for congressional approval of the Colombia trade agreement.
“Until Americans who receive the economic benefits that come with open trade realize what is at stake, and until those bearing the cost see light at the end of the tunnel, there will not be a pro-trade constituency as loud as the anti-trade forces, and our efforts to promote global economic integration will continue to founder,” Reinsch concluded.
To read the full remarks, please click here.
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