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. McCONNELL. Mr. President, today the administration sought to strengthen America's ties with an already close ally by moving forward with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Now it is up to Congress to pass this very important piece of legislation.
The Colombia Free Trade Agreement is more than an act of friendship between allies. It would strengthen our security and strengthen our economy. It would send a strong and unmistakable signal to our other allies in Latin America that the United States stands with those who support strong markets and free societies, especially in the face of threats.
Colombia's support for free markets and Democratic reform under President Uribe has made it an even stronger ally of the United States in recent years, a very sharp contrast to its next-door neighbor, Venezuela. We cannot allow election-year politics in the United States to make a resurgent Colombia more vulnerable to its anti-America neighbor.
America got a closeup of Venezuela's dictator at the U.N., when he likened an American President to the devil and predicted America's demise. His anti-Americanism has not softened since that speech, nor has the threat Hugo Chavez poses to regional stability. Chavez is a corrosive influence in South America. He embraces state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, for example, and he is aggressively courting like-minded leaders of other Latin American countries in order to draw a line in the sand between himself and his allies and America and its allies.
Now, most Latin American leaders such as President Uribe know allying themselves with Chavez is harmful in the long run. Unfortunately, Uribe's government has been severely tested by Chavez and his allies. Ecuador supports, for example, terrorist proxies in Colombia. Chavez has made it quite clear he supports Ecuador's efforts when he recently sent troops to the Colombian border.
Colombia has made tremendous progress. Not long ago, it appeared on the verge of collapse. Entire regions of the country were essentially ungoverned. Yet President Uribe, to his great credit, has pulled the country back from the brink.
The Colombia Free Trade Agreement is an important acknowledgment of the strides Colombia has made. And its passage would send a strong signal America is committed to Colombia's continued success and the success of our other allies in the region.
Now, as important, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would strengthen the U.S. economy, our economy, at a time when Americans are searching for some economic good news. Some seem to think our economy can somehow grow without the trading partners. These people who are arguing that nonsense also say we are best served if we trade only with ourselves. How absurd is that? In fact, the opposite is true. America needs trading partners to buy the goods we are making in our country. This is especially true when there is an imbalance in market access. The imbalance between the United States and Colombia is startling indeed.
Today, more than 90 percent of Colombian exports to the United States enter our country duty free. So they are getting 90 percent of their imports into our country duty free, even as American exporters face steep barriers to selling American-made goods to Colombia.
Democrats and Republicans agree it was important for Colombian exporters to enjoy the benefits of increased access to our markets. Why would we not want to give American products made by American workers the same opportunity we are giving Colombians already in our market?
The current situation is totally unfair. Virtually all U.S. farm goods are slammed with tariffs on their way down to Colombia, while virtually all Colombian farm goods coming here enter the United States without any tariffs at all.
The beneficiary of this arrangement is abundantly clear, and it is not U.S. workers or the economy they support. We hear a lot of rhetoric about the need for fair trade. Permitting equal access to Colombian markets is the very essence of fair trade. That is what this free-trade agreement would do.
Looking at my own State, for example, more than one-sixth of all manufacturing jobs in my State rely on exports. Kentucky exports about $15 billion in manufacturing goods every single year, including $67 million in exports to Colombia last year--a figure that is all but certain to go up after this free-trade agreement is ratified.
In these economic times, we should be expanding overseas markets for American-made products and American-grown goods. Now, some have argued labor conditions in Colombia are reason not to support the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. That is a total red herring. How does maintaining high tariffs on goods of the United States shipped to Colombia reduce violence against union jobs down there?
How does rejecting an ally that has helped reduce homicides against union members by 79 percent improve trade union safety? What nonsense these arguments are. I mean even the Washington Post, no bastion of conservatism, has called the issue completely bogus.
Today the L.A. Times, again not a bastion of conservatism, said the same thing, noting pressure from human rights groups and labor organizations has prompted Colombia to already do what the Democrats in Congress have urged, which is to improve the country's dismal labor record.
If Senators truly wish to help Colombia's union members, they need to vote for this agreement, reward Colombia for its improvements in this area, and encourage Colombia to draw even closer to the United States.
I would close by noting this free-trade agreement comes nearly a year, a year after an agreement was struck between the U.S. Trade Representative, the House Democratic leadership, and the House Ways and Means Committee on a plan to move forward with all the free-trade agreements this Congress.
The deal stated: In return for USTR negotiating unprecedented new labor and environmental standards, House Democrats would proceed with free-trade agreements for Peru, Panama, Korea, and Colombia. The USTR did its part. Yet the Democratic Congress has not lived up to its end of the bargain. So far only the Peru agreement has been passed.
We should reject an isolationism that limits economic growth and stunts job creation here at home. We should support this important Latin American ally. The time is long past for Congress to do what it promised and move forward on America's trade agenda.
Congress must reaffirm its commitment to an invigorated Colombia and, in the process, help our own economy at a difficult economic moment.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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