An accord between the U.S. and Colombia on labor protections and legal reforms in that country means President Obama can soon send the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement to Congress for ratification.
An administration official said Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos is in Washington this week. He is expected to meet April 7 with Obama to announce the deal.
The pact includes an "action plan" in which Colombia agrees to take specific steps to protect labor leaders from violence that has seen hundreds of union members there killed in the past decade. The terms include commitments by Colombia's government to prosecute offenders and to budget the resources to implement the deal.
White House documents also said "successful implementation of key elements of the action plan will be a precondition for the (trade) agreement to enter into effect."
An agreement could quickly boost U.S. exports to Colombia. The U.S. in 2010 shipped about $12 billion in goods to that country and bought nearly $16 billion worth, for a trade deficit in goods of about $3.6 billion. Some experts say a completed free trade deal with Colombia could boost U.S. sales there 10 percent or more and would be another step toward Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports worldwide through 2015.
Free trade advocates hailed the breakthrough, which follows a recent deal with South Korea to advance another pending bilateral trade agreement. Counting another stalled accord with Panama, the administration has been trying to finalize three such pending agreements to send to the Senate.
"Presidents Obama and Santos showed courage and pragmatism in striking this accord," said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue. His group says the underlying trade deal "will level the playing field for U.S. workers, farmers, and companies by immediately eliminating Colombian duties on more than 80 percent of U.S. exports" while also opening service sector markets.
The U.S. Grains Council said it recently coordinated briefings of U.S. senators by representatives of Colombia's feed milling, swine and wheat industries. Those officials said duty preferences given by Colombia to Argentina and Brazil had eroded the competitiveness of U.S. commodities even though U.S. shippers were reliable suppliers.
"We can't afford further delay," Donohue said. "Other nations are racing to clinch their own trade deals with Colombia and put American workers at a competitive disadvantage. U.S. farmers have already seen their share of Colombia's agriculture market fall from about three-quarters two years ago to one-quarter today."
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.