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| 4/11/2011 12:00:00 AM

Are Colombians fools?

April 11-In the wake of this week's progress on advancing the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, it was to be expected that critics of such accords would speak up. Most of the U.S. criticism, naturally, argues that the agreement is not in the U.S. interest. Two experts from Third Way nicely dispensed with some of the misperceptions underlying common critiques earlier in the week.

Over on another corner of this site, however, Clyde Prestowitz yesterday took a different tack. He argued that the agreement was not in Colombia's interest. He writes:

I have to say that I have long wondered why Colombia's leaders have wanted to do this deal. I really don't see much in it for Colombia."

Prestowitz's logic proceeds as follows:

1. Assume free trade agreements are all about tariffs and market access.

2. Note that U.S. preference programs allow 90 percent of goods to enter the United States without paying any tariffs.

3. Conclude that Colombians have naively succumbed to "the same knee-jerk ‘free trade is always win-win' doctrine" espoused in American universities and are acting against their own self interest.

To Foreign Policy's sophisticated readership, it may seem a bit odd that a country like Colombia would devote so much time and effort to negotiating the agreement and seeking its passage without even bothering to assess the country's current market access terms. And yet, how else can we explain their behavior? What could they be thinking?

One radical approach would be to ask. A couple years back I did just that in the wake of the implementation of the U.S. FTA with Peru. There are important differences between Peru and Colombia, of course, but both enjoyed substantial access to the U.S. market under the same preference programs (Andean trade preferences). I conducted a series of interviews in Lima with those who were instrumental in negotiating the agreement, with academics, and with leaders in key sectors such as pharmaceuticals and textiles.
 
Read more here.

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