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Friday, April 11, 2008

Political Gamesmanship on Colombian Free Trade

Ever since witnessing Democratic Texas lawmakers walk out of session and wind up in Oklahoma to avoid being arrested in the political version of a Mexican stand off with Tom Delay over redistricting in the early part of this century, I have loathed almost all forms of political gamesmanship. I am in a minority of Conservatives that applauded the gang of 14 because I believe that it averted another round of political gamesmanship over judges.

We are now either at the end or in the middle of another round of political gamesmanship over the Colombian free trade deal. The President used an obscure tactic last week in order to force the House to vote on the trade pact within 90 days. The House Speaker unwilling to hold the vote announced this week that she would simply change the rules and thus avoid having the vote. It is unclear if President Bush has anymore cards to play however it is a shame that Colombian trade had to come to this.

On any rational level expanding free trade with Colombia is frankly a no brainer. First, we already have extended free trade with Colombia and currently it is almost entirely our exports that get hurt. There continue to be large tariffs on many of our goods that would be eliminated with this agreement. Trade with Colombia amounts to only about 20 billion dollars yearly. Thus, it will have negligible affect on our economy either way.

Where the free trade agreement is vital is on a geo political level. President Uribe of Colombia has done a remarkable job of taking on rebels and drug lords and the country has been transformed in little more than a decade. Most importantly, the Colombian government has become not only our biggest ally in the region but a fierce rival and counter weight to Hugo Chavez and his coalition (including Bolivia and Nicaragua)

The Colombian economy has transformed itself while Uribe has taken on the drug lords. On the other hand, the Colombian economy is still fragile and without real economic expansion most of the folks will be lured back into the hands of the drug lords. Without an open U.S. market, it makes economic expansion in Colombia that much more difficult. Thus, this trade deal is vital to sustaining many of the gains that Uribe has created. If the Colombians aren't able to import flowers and coffee, they will import cocaine and heroin.

Furthermore, it is shameful for the Democrats to scream about a new kind of foreign policy and then close trade to most of our neighbors and allies. A new kind of foreign policy is nothing but empty rhetoric if those same folks aren't able to stand up to the all powerful unions and allow free trade agreements that are vital to most of our allies. Our geopolitical position is entirely compromised if our politicians bow down to unions over our allies. This sort of partisan political power play winds up with real geopolitical consequences and it is time for it to end.

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