Thursday, April 29, 2010

Canada Dominates while Washington Fiddles (or "Even More Proof that Canada Makes the US Look Like a Hoser")

It's looking more and more like my feared "bizarro competitive liberalization" is becoming reality in the United States.  First, it was the EU-South Korea FTA potentially pushing the US to ratify its FTA with Korea, and now the Canada-Colombia FTA might do the same for the US-Colombia agreement.  This is just great...  because, you know, nothing says "we support free trade" like being forced to ratify economically beneficial trade agreements with major diplomatic allies by threat of losing export market share.  Awful.

Here's Boomberg with the embarrassing details (with a nice little addendum at the end by the US Chamber of Commerce's John Murphy):
Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata said Canadian exporters may gain as U.S. lawmakers delay approval of a free-trade agreement with the Latin American country.

Plata was in Ottawa to court lawmakers from Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party in a bid to cement their support for a trade accord and assure its passage in Parliament. He testified at a committee hearing yesterday, met with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and dined twice with other Liberal lawmakers during his two-day visit.

“Many of the things that we buy from the U.S. we could buy from Canada and we could buy tariff-free,” Plata, 42, said, pointing to purchases of wheat, barley, corn, machinery and mining equipment.

“The U.S. has to think about it,” he said in an interview at the Colombian embassy in Ottawa. “If they come late to the party, and Canada has been able to move forward and been able to displace them from the market, it will be very hard to reclaim that market.”...

President Barack Obama has said he would press for passage of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, though he cautioned that “different glitches” must first be negotiated with each country.
The administration wants to balance its goal of doubling U.S. exports with concerns from Democratic lawmakers and labor unions that the trade agreements fail to align labor, tax and environmental policies.

Plata, who met with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk last week in Washington, said U.S. officials initially signaled to him that lawmakers would make progress on trade accords after the U.S. Congress passed new health care legislation.

“To my surprise I find a very big disconnect between the speech and the reality,” he said. “The reality is that I don’t see the U.S. moving.”

Colombia was the U.S.’s eighth-largest market for corn last year, down from sixth place a year earlier, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its ranking for wheat fell to 10th place from seventh place in 2008....

If Canada seals a trade deal with Colombia, it may spur U.S. lawmakers to expedite the delayed accord, said Walter Bastian, the U.S. Commerce Department’s top official on Latin America.

U.S. trade talks with Chile were expedited in similar fashion after Canada cemented a deal with the South American country, he added.

“When people started to realize the lost business opportunities, it spurred negotiators to get it done,” Bastian said in an interview in Nicaragua today. “The rest of the world isn’t standing still. We don’t want to be left out of the game.”...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservatives have made strengthening ties with Latin America a priority in an effort to broaden markets for Canadian commodities and reduce the country’s dependence on the U.S. economy.

Harper’s Conservatives lack a majority of seats in Parliament and need the support of opposition lawmakers to pass legislation. The Liberals have said they will back an amended version of the agreement that includes yearly assessments of human rights conditions....
The Chamber's Murphy adds via email: "In Washington last week, Minister Plata observed that the U.S. share of Colombia’s market for soybean meal, yellow corn, and wheat dropped by 67%, 53%, and 37%, respectively, in 2008-2009, following implementation of a new trade accord between Colombia and Mercosur.  That accord eliminated tariffs on those imports from Brazil and Argentina."

Me: I guess we're all mercantilists now.

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