NEW DIRECTION FOR ENERGY INDEPENDENCE, NATIONAL SECURITY, AND CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT AND THE RENEWABLE ENERGY AND ENERGY CONSERVATION TAX ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - April 08, 2008)
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Mr. GRASSLEY. Today, President Bush submitted the Colombia Trade Promotion Trade Agreement Implementing Act to Congress. This bill, as the title implies, would implement our pending trade agreement with Colombia, which the administration and Colombia signed in November 2006.
This is an important agreement that deserves our support. Some of the economic reasons for supporting this trade agreement are that the economic rationale is obvious. In my view, the economic rationale is undeniable. That is because Colombia is a beneficiary of two of our unilateral trade preference programs: The Andean Trade Preference Act, and the Generalized System of Preferences.
Now, all this means is Colombia already gets duty-free access to U.S. markets for the vast majority of its goods. Now, meanwhile, less than 3 percent of our exports to Colombia, and not a single U.S. agricultural export, receives duty-free treatment from Colombia. Our exporters face Colombian tariffs as high as 35 percent for nonagricultural goods and even much higher tariffs for agricultural goods.
The Colombian trade agreement would thus eliminate this disparity or, as we like to say so often, level the playing field for American exporters, thus giving American workers the same access to Colombian markets that their workers get to the U.S. markets; in other words, being fair, leveling the playing field.
Now, the U.S. International Trade Commission has found that leveling the playing field will increase our exports to Colombia by $1.1 billion per year. That is as a result of eliminating the duty on goods. That means real benefits for American farmers, for American manufacturers, for American service suppliers.
One of the chief benefits is it will help keep good-paying jobs in the United States. So I would ask my colleagues and the American people to think about this whole proposition about the Colombian Free Trade Agreement this way: Either we maintain the status quo or we create new opportunities for American exporters.
At its heart, that is what this debate is all about. Last year, exports accounted for more than 40 percent of our total economic growth. We should be doing everything we can do to grow our exports even further. That is what we did last December when the Senate voted by this wide margin of 77 to 18 in favor of a free-trade agreement with Peru.
The Colombian trade agreement is very much like this Peru agreement, and the Colombian market is bigger than the Peru agreement. If it makes sense to approve the Peru agreement, it makes even more sense to approve the agreement with the country of Colombia.
Economic considerations are not the only reason to support the Colombian agreement. I say this because too often we measure trade entirely in economic terms. But there are a lot of ways to measure trade other than in dollars and cents. Because in this instance and in so many instances, trade agreements are about an important national security priority.
There is one very specific reason for doing this with Colombia. Because as my Senate colleagues know, Colombia is a strong Democratic ally in a very dangerous neighborhood. For many years, it has been under assault from the FARC, a group of narcoterrorists fighting to overthrow the democratically elected Government in Colombia. It is increasingly under pressure, as Colombia is, from Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. You have seen a lot of this in the news in the last month.
President Chavez of Venezuela is using oil wealth to divide Latin America. He is trying to lure allies to his Socialist vision and, most importantly, to promote his anti-U.S. agenda. He is fiercely opposed in this process to anything that Colombia's President Uribe does in cooperating with the United States or even having a friendship with the United States.
There have been troubling reports that President Chavez may be working with the FARC. Last month, he tried to create a diplomatic crisis over a border incident that did not even involve Venezuela. He took the side of the FARC against the Colombian Government. At a challenging time such as this, the United States has a responsibility to provide strong, principled leadership. Our agreeing to the Colombian Free Trade Agreement is one way of showing strong, principled leadership in support of a friend in South America.
We must stand by our allies. We must help to promote economic stability, security and, most importantly, the rule of law, whether it is in trade or nontrade areas. President Uribe has made it clear that one of the most important steps we can take in this regard is then to help him, through our implementation of the Colombian Trade Agreement that levels the playing field for America, for America's manufacturers, service providers, so we can get our products into Colombia on the same basis as Colombian farmers or manufacturers or whatever have been able to get their products into this country without duty.
Our leaders in Latin America are watching us in this process. They see our approach to Colombia as a proxy for the overall attitude toward Latin America. If Congress rejects this trade agreement, or if we were to refuse to vote on it, our allies in Latin America might well conclude that the word of the United States is no good. That will not help Latin America, and it surely is not good for our country.
I know some of my colleagues have concerns about this agreement. One of those concerns is the issue of violence by Colombia or within Colombia against labor leaders. Anti-union violence has been a serious problem in Colombia for years.
If the Colombian Government were ignoring this issue, that might be reason to oppose this agreement. But Colombia and President Uribe are not ignoring the issue. To the contrary, Colombia has made massive strides in its fight against anti-union violence. Moreover, I have yet to hear a convincing reason why voting down the Colombian agreement or refusing to vote on it will help to reduce violence against labor leaders.
If we want to help Colombia reduce violence, and if we want to assist in the demobilization process, we should be doing what we can to enhance economic growth and create new opportunities for a legitimate economy. One way we can advance that objective is to vote to implement the Colombian trade agreement.
Now, the one other concern I have heard is the administration should have waited to submit the agreement until it reached a procedural agreement with the congressional leadership. The fact is, we have been waiting for Congress to take up this issue for over 10 months. On May 10 of last year, there was a great, grand deal made about our bipartisan compromise on trade that would pave the way for the continuation of pending trade agreements, including the Colombian agreement, including Peru, which has been passed, and including Panama, which still is on the agenda.
Now, since May 10 of last year, there has been no action on Colombia. This inaction violates the compact between the legislative and executive branches of our Federal Government on trade. The administration negotiated the Colombian trade agreement under the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authorization of 2002.
Under the trade promotion authority procedures, the administration has an obligation to consult with Congress during the course of the negotiation and to conclude an agreement that meets the negotiation objectives specified in that statute, the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002.
Now, the administration has done all those things required by that act. The administration even went further by reopening the agreement to implement the enhanced labor and environmental provisions that were demanded by the new Democratic majority after the elections of 2006, which was their right to do.
These agreements then on labor and the environment were part of the May 10 bipartisan trade deal. Colombia has agreed to accept those provisions. But the trade promotion authority places a firm responsibility on Congress as well, the responsibility to process a trade agreement for an up-or-down vote once it has been concluded.
Congress has had over 10 months to engage the administration and commence that process. In that time, we have not even had a hearing on the Colombian trade agreement. So the time for that process ran out.
Now, this is the position the administration is in. In order to preserve sufficient time under the trade promotion authority to assure a final vote this year, the President has now submitted the agreement and implementing legislation to this Congress. But that does not mean Congress must vote tomorrow.
Today's action by the President starts the 90-day legislative clock in the House and Senate under that Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Agreement of 2002.
So there remains plenty of time to work together on a bipartisan basis to reach consensus. For example, I am engaging in intense discussion with the chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus of Montana, on a consensus bill to reauthorize our trade adjustment assistance programs. We will certainly continue that effort. Trade adjustment assistance is the top priority of Senator Baucus on the trade agenda this year. I have agreed to work with him to advance his priority that I also have an interest in advancing. But my priority is implementation of the Colombian trade agreement. I expect to see a vote on that as well. I think Congress can address both priorities. I think Congress can meet both responsibilities. I think Congress can accomplish them in a bipartisan way.
It is time to stop playing politics with our Nation's vital economic and foreign policy interests. It is time to level the playing field between the United States and Colombia on free trade. That level playing field is going to benefit the United States. It is not going to benefit Colombia much more, although it will benefit them some. American workers deserve a fair opportunity to sell our products and services abroad. Colombia deserves recognition for the tremendous progress it has made over the past few years. It is time for Congress to demonstrate leadership and to meet our responsibility in the economic and foreign policy areas.
The United States-Colombia trade promotion agreement deserves an up-or-down vote this year. This debate will continue. I hope that before the end it becomes more of a dialog than a debate because I think dialog is what foreign trade is all about.
This issue is too important. The stakes are too high. We must find a way forward, and we need to find it together. I think we will.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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