Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today in response to President Bush’s proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement:
“President Bush has made numerous bad decisions during his Administration that have already cost countless American workers their jobs and have done profound harm to U.S. foreign policy – harm that will take years for the next President to undo. By sending up the Colombia FTA legislation under circumstances that maximize the chances it will fail, he will be adding one more mistake to his legacy and one more mess for the next President to clean up.
“There is strong support for Colombia in the U.S. Congress, evidenced by the fact that Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. aid money in the hemisphere. Many in Congress have tremendous respect for the progress that President Uribe has been able to make under difficult circumstances. It is a major mistake, however, to set up the Colombia FTA legislation as the proxy for support for Colombia, as the Bush Administration is trying to do.
“An FTA is not a foreign-aid package. It is neither a favor for friendly governments, nor a substitute for sensible and sustained foreign-policy engagement in the hemisphere. An FTA is an essentially permanent economic integration agreement. Many Democrats continue to have serious concerns about an agreement that creates the highest level of economic integration with a country where workers and their families are routinely murdered and subjected to violence and intimidation for seeking to exercise their most basic economic rights. And the perpetrators of the violence have near total impunity.
“The Government of Colombia has undoubtedly made progress on this front, but the level of violence against trade unionists is still the worst in the world. Further, as Rep. George Miller has said, serious questions need to be addressed about the Government of Colombia’s sustained commitment to this effort. By sending up the FTA before these concerns have been fully addressed, President Bush is significantly undercutting support for the FTA.
“Further, the President’s decision to act unilaterally in sending the FTA disregards three decades of established precedent under fast-track legislation, and demonstrates yet again his lack of respect for Congress. The Colombia FTA will have enough problems purely on its merits; President Bush will exacerbate those problems by sending up the FTA in this manner. And by thumbing his nose at the basic processes that underlie Congress’ willingness to extend fast-track authority to a President, President Bush is dealing a serious blow to U.S. trade policy for years to come.
“If President Bush really believes that successful passage of the Colombia FTA is critical for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, it is difficult to understand why he would send the FTA up under circumstances of his own creation that maximize the controversy associated with it. While it is understandable that a lame-duck Administration wants to notch accomplishments in its final year in office, I am very concerned that this short-term focus will leave long-term problems for U.S. foreign policy and U.S. trade policy.”