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Public Statements

Free Trade Agreements

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. LeMIEUX. Madam President, I rise to speak this afternoon on the floor of the Senate about an issue that is very critically important to the people of this country, and that is our relationship with Latin America.

This weekend, the new President of Colombia will be sworn in--Juan Manuel Santos--and he follows a great leader in Colombia, President Uribe, who, in my mind, is the Abraham Lincoln of that country. He kept that country unified at a very difficult time, while it was wracked with what was then a civil war. Eight years ago, President Uribe brought the country back together. He was able to fight the FARC, keep the country from falling into a narcoterrorist state, and has brought stability to Colombia. They are perhaps our best friend in Latin America.

Colombia is a vibrant, beautiful country, full of good people, with a democracy that now works. This last election is a tribute to President Uribe. On behalf of my State of Florida and the Senate, I rise to congratulate President Uribe and the great work he did on behalf of Colombia, as well as to welcome in President Santos.

Our relationship with Colombia is very important. They are a key trading partner to the United States and a key trading partner to my home State of Florida. When you are walking around and perhaps seeing some fresh flowers--there are some here in this Congress--but wherever you are in this country, there is a very good chance those flowers came from Colombia. Seventy percent of the flowers we have in this country that are purchased by local florists come from Colombia, and they come through Miami on their way to your local florists.

We have a great trading relationship. That is why, in 2006, we entered into a free trade agreement with Colombia. Unfortunately, we have not ratified that agreement. Along with the free trade agreements for Panama and South Korea, they have languished without approval. The President spoke about this in his State of the Union Address--the importance of passing these free trade agreements--yet we still don't have those agreements before us here in the Congress. For one reason or another, they have yet to be ratified.

There is a lot of talk in this Chamber about the creation of jobs, and that that should be our focus. Well, passing these free trade agreements would get Americans back to work. Right now those countries basically have free trade with us but we don't have free trade with them. Ninety percent of all Colombian products sold in the United States enter our country duty free. Yet American goods face tariffs of up to 35 percent when entering Colombia.

According to the Latin America Trade Coalition, in 2008, more than 6,000 small- and medium-sized American businesses exported to Colombia. If we were to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, more than 80 percent of U.S. consumer and manufacturing products and most U.S. farm goods would immediately enter Colombia duty free.

Implementing this treaty could increase our gross domestic product by $2.5 billion. I say to my friends in the majority, if they want to create jobs in this country--and that certainly should be what we are focused most on in this most troubling economy--let's pass these free-trade agreements. Let's do it when we get back from the break; let's do it in September. We should have already done it.

When I met with President Uribe in January of this year and talked to him about a variety of issues, he looked at me painfully and said: Why is our friend, the United States of America, not ratifying this agreement?

Our greatest friend in the region, a bright spot of democracy, a President who has fought the narcoterrorists, stabilized this country as a bulwark against Venezuela and all the threats that posed to our region, and we can't ratify this agreement? It is a shame. It is something we need to do. We need to do it as well as ratify the agreement with Panama, as well as the one with South Korea.

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