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| 10/25/2011 3:00:00 PM

Get cracking

October 25--COLOMBIA’s government had waited so long for the country’s free-trade agreement (FTA) with the United States to be approved that when it passed at last, officials were caught a little off guard. The deal had been stalled in Washington for more than five years because of lobbying by left-leaning advocacy groups, who asked to see progress in Colombia’s human-rights record before rewarding the country with the trade deal. The FTA is expected to increase Colombia’s long-term economic growth rate by over half a percentage point.

While the pact languished, Colombia hired Washington lobbyists to drum up support and invited dozens of congressmen to tour the country. In April Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, reached an agreement with Barack Obama on a list of nine policies the country could implement to protect labour rights in exchange for approval of the FTA. On October 12th Congress ratified the deal, as well as similar agreements with Panama and South Korea.

But two days earlier Juan Camilo Restrepo, Colombia’s agriculture minister, said the country was “not ready” for the effects of the FTA. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” he said, warning that small-scale rice and corn growers, dairy farmers and poultry producers needed to adapt quickly, so that when the “cold shower of the FTA hits them, it doesn't turn into pneumonia.”

Álvaro Uribe, who negotiated the agreement with George W. Bush, had set up a programme of subsidies to help farmers compete with cheap agricultural imports from the United States once the deal came into effect. But it soon became the centre of a corruption scandal in which payments meant for small farmers went instead to large landholding families. (The trial of Andrés Felipe Arias, the former agriculture minister who was in charge of the programme, coincidentally began the same day the FTA was approved.)
 
 
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