COLOMBIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT -- (Senate - May 07, 2008)
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, last month, Democratic leaders in the House made a truly terrible decision. They opted to kill a free-trade agreement that had already been reached between the United States and Colombia, one of our closest, if not our closest, ally in Latin America, and a nation that has made great strides at democratic reform.
At the heart of the deal was an agreement that U.S. manufacturers and farmers would no longer have to pay tariffs on U.S. goods that are sold in Colombia. This would have leveled the playing field since most Colombian goods are sold in the United States duty free.
At a time of economic uncertainty at home, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement should have been an obvious bipartisan effort to bolster U.S. manufacturing and agriculture and to expand overseas markets for U.S. goods.
Unfortunately, the House leaders decided that the support of union leaders was, in this case, more important than our relations with a close ally or the state of the U.S. economy. That decision has already had serious and far-reaching consequences, and that is not just the view on this side of the aisle.
Virtually every major paper in the country was swift in condemning the House Democrats for changing the rules and blocking a vote on this trade agreement. They recognized that the decision was bad for our relations with Colombia, bad as a matter of national security, and bad for the U.S. economy.
Here are just a few of the headlines from newspapers across our country:
``Drop Dead, Colombia,'' said the Washington Post.
``Free Trade Deal is A Winner,'' said the Charleston Post and Courier.
``Approve Pact with Colombia,'' said the Los Angeles Times.
``A Trade Deal that All of the Americas Need,'' said the Rocky Mountain News.
``Our View On Free Trade: Pass the Colombia Pact,'' USA Today.
``Pelosi's Bad Faith,'' the Wall Street Journal.
``Time for the Colombian Trade Pact,'' the New York Times.
``Historical Failure on Colombia Trade Pact,'' the Denver Post.
``Lose-Lose; House Rejection of Trade Agreement is Bad for U.S. Workers and Colombia,'' the Houston Chronicle.
``Caving on Colombia,'' the Chicago Tribune.
And in my own hometown paper, the Louisville Courier Journal, an editorial titled: ``Free Trade's Benefits.''
Here is how the Courier Journal put it:
Far from the Washington Beltway, out here in Kentucky, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement would have real consequences in real people's lives--most of them good, in our view.
I could go on. In the days after the House scuttled the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the Office of U.S. Trade Representative counted more than 75 editorials opposing that decision. It is still waiting for a single editorial somewhere in America supporting the Speaker's decision to scuttle the free-trade agreement.
A congressional resolution in support of Independence Day would probably draw more criticism than the Colombia Free Trade Agreement has from U.S. newspapers. And the reason is abundantly clear. The decision to block a vote has already had serious and far-reaching consequences. As the San Diego Union Tribune put it in yet another editorial critical of the move: ``Bashing Has a Price.''
With respect to tariffs, that price is quantifiable. According to an estimate by the Department of Commerce, U.S. goods entering Colombia have been weighted down with more than $1 billion--$1 billion--in tariffs since the Colombia Free Trade Agreement was signed--$1 billion. This is a heavy burden to place on U.S. workers and the businesses they work for.
We hear a lot from the other side about the need for fair trade. Is it fair that U.S. goods have been saddled with more than $1 billion in tariffs just in the last year and a half alone, while more than 90 percent of Colombian-made goods are sold here without any tariffs at all? What is fair about that? This, apparently, is what House Democrats in Congress regard as fair trade.
The trade imbalance between the United States and Colombia is a matter of enormous significance for the many States that rely on exports--States such as Kentucky, which exported about $67 million worth of goods to Colombia last year. Had the FTA been brought up and passed, that figure would have been all but certain to increase this year.
The beef industry is a good example of how the trade imbalance hurts the U.S. Kentucky is the largest beef-cattle-producing State east of the Mississippi River. But at the moment, prime and choice cuts of Kentucky beef face 80 percent duties once they reach Colombian ports. Obviously, an 80-percent markup on beef makes it hard for cattle farmers in my State to compete.
The House failure to take up the Colombia Free Trade Agreement puts States such as Kentucky at a serious competitive disadvantage with Colombia--despite the fact that Colombia itself wants to level the playing field. It is Democrats in the House, not Colombia, who insist on keeping high tariffs on U.S. goods in place.
At a time when the U.S. economy is struggling, we should be doing all we can to help U.S. exporters sell their goods abroad. Instead, House Democrats are burdening our exporters with high tariffs. In these economic times, we should be expanding access to overseas markets for American-made products and American-grown goods, not standing in the way.
This is a consensus view--a consensus view--not just a Republican view. The Senate is ready to vote in favor of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement on a very broad bipartisan basis. For the good of the economy, we should be allowed to take that vote. The House should take up the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and pass it, and they should do it without any further delay.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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