Testimony of Ambassador Miriam Sapiro
Deputy United States Trade Representative
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Senate Finance Committee
*As Prepared for Delivery*
“Chairman Baucus, Ranking Member Hatch, Members of the Committee, it is a great honor to testify before you today about the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
“The Obama Administration is pursuing multiple initiatives to open global markets, dismantle barriers to our exports and vigorously defend America’s trade rights. As part of this comprehensive strategy, President Obama directed us to work with Congress and other stakeholders to build bipartisan support for the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
“The President firmly believes that our trade agreements must advance both our economic interests and our core values. For each of the three pending agreements, we have worked intensively to address key issues of concern and forge broader bipartisan support. With South Korea, we succeeded in addressing several issues, including market access for autos. With Panama, we succeeded in addressing labor rights and tax transparency questions. And with Colombia, we succeeded in developing an Action Plan Related to Labor Rights to address serious concerns regarding labor protections, violence and impunity. Last week, staff from this Committee made history when they joined with colleagues from the House Committee on Ways and Means and USTR to begin informal drafting sessions on three trade agreements simultaneously.
“There is no question that Colombia has made important strides in protecting labor rights and reducing threats of violence over the past decade. But it was equally clear to the Administration that more needed to be done, from preventing practices that undermine fundamental labor rights, to enhancing protection for union activists, to strengthening the investigation and prosecution of labor-related violence. We have had a willing partner in President Santos, who has shown commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens and promoting social justice.
“Working together, the Obama and Santos administrations reached agreement on the Action Plan, which we announced on April 7. My colleague, Deputy Under Secretary of Labor Sandra Polaski, played a key role in developing and negotiating the Action Plan, which she will describe in more depth. Specific improvements that have already occurred include expanded eligibility for Colombia’s protection program to include not only labor leaders, but also rank and file activists and those seeking to form a union. More than 95 judicial police investigators have been assigned exclusively to pursuing cases of labor violence, with early identification of any union affiliation now mandatory. And ahead of schedule, Colombia enacted legislation to move up the effective date of new penalties for misuse of worker cooperatives.
“These and other actions by Colombia to date have enabled USTR and Congress to begin the technical discussions now under way regarding the text of the implementing bill for the Agreement. Colombia still has important work to accomplish to address additional elements of the Action Plan before the President will formally submit the Agreement to Congress for consideration. I am pleased to announce that our work with Colombia on these remaining tasks is well underway, and that I will meet on Friday with a high-level team flying up from Bogota.
“Once approved, our trade agreement will provide significant economic and commercial benefits for our exporters. The ITC has estimated that it will expand our goods exports to Colombia by more than a billion dollars, increase U.S. GDP by 2.5 billion dollars, and support thousands of additional jobs for our workers. U.S. companies would also enjoy new access to Colombia’s 134 billion dollar services market, improved intellectual property rights protection, increased government procurement opportunities, and safeguards against discriminatory or unlawful treatment. We must of course ensure that U.S. workers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers will be able to enjoy these substantial benefits, as we recognize that Colombia has already negotiated trade agreements with some of our toughest competitors.
“Even as Colombia has been working closely with us, it has nevertheless suffered from a loss of preferential access to the U.S. market since the Andean Trade Preference Act lapsed earlier this year. The Administration urges Congress to renew both the ATPA and the GSP programs for as long as possible. For Colombia, extension will restore these preferences until our Agreement can enter into force.
“We also urge Congress to keep faith with America’s workers by renewing a robust Trade Adjustment Assistance program that will support Americans who need training and other services when their jobs are affected by trade. TAA is a key component of the President’s legislative trade agenda, along with renewal of the preference programs I just mentioned and Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Russia as that country joins the World Trade Organization.
“We are eager to work with this Committee, and Congress as a whole, to accomplish all of these objectives this year. Thank you.”