Congress has one more chance this week to do the right thing and pass the bilateral trade agreement with Colombia (as well as the one with Panama). The New York Times made the same argument in an editorial today, focusing on America's relations with Latin America and the blow to U.S. credibility around the world if it walks away from an agreement negotiated in good faith -- and then renegotiated to meet Democrats concerns in a number of areas after they captured Congress in 2006.
The Times, while arguing that the agreement would be good for the U.S. economy and workers, rightly did not argue that it would provide sufficient stimulus to do anything to mitigate the current economic crisis. U.S.-Colombia trade is simply too small to make any difference. But approving the agreement would send an important and tangible signal to the world that the U.S. Congress supports President Bush in endorsing the G-20's declaration on "the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and not turning inward in times of financial uncertainty."
Opposition to the Colombia accord is not, in my view, rooted in protectionism. There are legitimate concerns about human rights violations and impunity for those murdering union organizers in Colombia, though there have been significant improvements (see below). But, as the Times argues in its editorial, rejecting the trade agreement would not do anything to improve human rights in Colombia, nor would it remove the leverage that the United States has to forcefully address those issues. The most recent case raised by opponents of the trade agreement is a problem with union organizing in the sugar sector. With the trade agreement in place, U.S. policymakers could ask for consultations on the matter, investigate the complaints regarding union suppression, and, potentially, impose trade sanctions. Without the agreement, there is no mechanism to do this.
Murders of Union Organizers, as reported by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions: