Statement by Ambassador Miriam Sapiro
Deputy United States Trade Representative
Before the House Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Trade
March 17, 2011
*As Prepared for Delivery*
“Chairman Brady, Ranking Member McDermott, Members of the Committee, it is an honor and a pleasure to testify today about the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
“The Obama Administration is committed to a comprehensive trade agenda that opens global markets, dismantles barriers and vigorously enforces America’s trade rights. Central to these efforts are the three pending free trade agreements (FTAs). Our goal is to have all three agreements, with their outstanding issues addressed, approved by Congress as soon as possible. Last week we notified the Ways and Means Committee that we are ready to begin collaborative work on the text of the implementing bill for Korea.
“We are working hard so that we can also move the Panama and Colombia agreements forward with the broadest possible support.
“With respect to Panama, our governments have agreed upon steps needed to resolve outstanding issues relating to labor laws and tax transparency that, when taken by Panama, will ready that agreement for Congressional consideration.
“Today I want to discuss the Colombia free trade agreement and its importance to the United States. Colombia is a key trading partner. It has a dynamic and growing economy, which is the third largest in South America. Colombia is also a vital partner of the United States more broadly, both in the region and globally.
“The Colombia FTA holds the prospect of substantial benefits for U.S. workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers by eliminating tariffs on U.S. exports, in most cases upon entry into force. The International Trade Commission has estimated that the FTA would expand exports of U.S. goods to Colombia by more than 1.1 billion dollars, and increase U.S. GDP by 2.5 billion dollars.
“The agreement’s benefits go beyond elimination of tariffs on goods. It will also provide significant new access to Colombia’s services market, improve standards for Intellectual Property Rights protection, open government procurement opportunities, and safeguard U.S. companies in Colombia against discriminatory or unlawful treatment. The agreement will also help U.S. products remain competitive as Colombia forges new relationships with the EU, Canada and other trading partners. Finally, it will help strengthen the Colombian economy, bolstering a steadfast partner in the Hemisphere.
“As important as these benefits are, President Obama has made it clear that any trade agreement we send to Congress must be in the interest of Americans, and also be consistent with our values.
“This Administration has heard from a broad range of stakeholders and has subsequently made clear to Colombia that three areas of concern must be addressed: first, the protection of internationally recognized labor rights; second, prevention of violence against labor leaders; and third, the prosecution of the perpetrators of such violence.
“We understand these concerns are shared by the Santos Administration and we are encouraged by their recent actions. But more needs to be done. We now have a window of opportunity to work on securing important improvements, and we are not losing a moment to do so. I am pleased to announce that shortly after my testimony today, I will meet with senior officials from the Colombian Government who have flown in to continue our discussions.
“As you know, on February 9, Ambassador Kirk announced that the President had directed him to intensify our engagement with Colombia to resolve the outstanding issues as quickly as possible this year and submit the Colombia FTA to Congress immediately thereafter. Less than a week later, I met with Colombian Ambassador Silva. Shortly thereafter, during the week of February 14, USTR led an interagency team comprised of State Department, Labor Department, and White House officials to Bogota to obtain up-to-date information. Last week, I met in Washington with a high-level delegation from the Santos Administration to discuss how best to promote our shared goals of protecting worker rights and addressing violence and impunity.
“We are also intensifying consultations with key stakeholders and Members of Congress, including House and Senate leadership. We are working quickly but thoughtfully. The Obama Administration shares both the sense of urgency and the concern for worker rights that we have heard from many Members of Congress as we seek to advance the Colombia FTA.
“In the meantime, Congress can immediately support the United States’ economic and strategic partnership with Colombia by renewing the Andean Trade Preference Act for as long as possible. We also call on you to keep faith with America’s workers by renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance as soon as possible.
“We look forward to working with you on both the Colombia FTA and our broader trade agenda in a manner that builds bipartisan support.”