About the Author: Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro serves as the Senior Coordinator of the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Free Trade Task Force.
I spent last week in Colombia -- in Bogotá (the capital), Medellín (the former murder capital of the world, now a prosperous manufacturing center), and Quibdó (the capital of the poorest state in Colombia and an area which is predominately Afro-Colombian).
Workers on flower farms in the outskirts of Bogotá were pleased that their pre-school children were in day care on the farms where they worked. Campesinos -- farmworkers -- from around Medellín were improving yields and the quality of their products with the help of the company buying their crops. I saw displaced, demobilized fighters from the guerrillas and the paramilitary organizations working in a variety of jobs. In Quibdó, a “Justice House” was helping ordinary people obtain access to social services and resolve the problems that affect their lives.
In Medellín, the municipal government has built world class public libraries in the toughest neighborhoods and extended public transportation through two cable car lines up the steep hillsides to the poorest slums. That’s something I haven’t seen anywhere else in Latin America.
I don’t want to say there are no problems in Colombia. Of course there are.
But Colombians are proud in what they have achieved and are confident about their future.
Business groups kept asking me to explain why the U.S. Congress hasn’t approved the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement. “Don’t they understand that our exports already enter the United States duty free?” They are convinced that Colombia will have more jobs and a sounder economy if U.S. products have the same duty free access to Colombia that their exports have to the United States.
We exported $8.5 billion to Colombia in 2007 and $6.7 billion in just the first six months of this year. I worry that other countries will take this market from us while the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement is caught up in our domestic politics.