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Colombia trade deal stalled in Congress

U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab (R) meets with Colombian Minister of Commerce Luis Guillermo Plata in Colombia in April 2008.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: With seven months left in the Bush Administration, time's running out on some of the president's priorities. Free trade's one of 'em.

The White House is waiting on Congress to approve a couple of big trade deals: One with South Korea, another with Colombia.

The Colombian trade minister Luis Plata is in Washington this week. He's lobbying lawmakers for their vote to approve the treaty that the White House signed almost two years ago.

Congressional Democrats have shown no signs of changing their minds about that deal, even though analysts say most of the provisions seem to favor the United States.

When I spoke with Luis Plata earlier this week, I asked him about that.

Luis Plata: Well, I think it's a fair deal, actually. We spent all the time negotiating this deal because it gives access to Colombian products to the U.S. on a regular basis and this is important because this is really what drives investment and that's the key to any trade deal -- not to just sell more of what you have, but to actually drive investment. More people, both Colombian and foreign, will invest as we have a trade deal that is stable in time and is not unilateral, but is actually a relationship of partnership with the U.S. Given its importance, it's important that this year, hopefully, it will be approved.

Ryssdal: As I'm sure you're aware, we've got this election coming up in this country in November. Does it concern you at all, that deadline?

Plata: No, actually. I think what's challenging in an election year is that people are thinking about different issues and things like a trade deal with Colombia or for that matter, any other country, are not the priority. I think once we get past the elections, I think it'll be a better time to take up those issues again.

Ryssdal: Even if it's a President Obama with a Democratically-controlled both houses of Congress?

Plata: I think it's a deal that's important both to Colombia and to the U.S. not only on its economic merits, but also on its political merit. Colombia happens to be the main ally for the U.S. in the hemisphere and I think it's only fair that we get a deal such as Mexico, such as Central America, Peru and even Chile have these days.

Ryssdal: What's the perception in Colombia of American politicians who want to impose labor standards and human rights and other conditions on trade deals that they make?

Plata: Well, I think for us Colombians, we don't really understand what this means because why should somebody else be more concerned about domestic issues and domestic problems that Colombians have than Colombians themselves? It's like me telling you to watch out and care for your family. I'm sure I don't have to tell you this because to no one is it more dear than to you, your own family. So we feel quite surprised that somebody would think, "Well, Colombia should protect their environment, Colombia should protect their labor rights," because we Colombians are the ones who should be concerned about those things; as a matter of fact, we are concerned about those things and we're working on those things, but not because somebody else says that we have to or because somebody considers that we ought to be doing that but because those are the right things to do. That's what we got elected for was to protect the Colombians, to protect worker rights, to pursue those who commit crimes and not tolerate impunity and certainly to protect the environment.

Ryssdal: Luis Plata is the Colombian Minister of Trade and Industry. Mr. Plata, thanks for your time.

Plata: Kai, thank you so much. Thank you for your questions.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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