the miami herald

Trade deal would reduce drug flow

Jul 08-- During the Colombia Free Trade Agreement discussions in the White House and Congress, a major point has been missed. Colombia is the No. 1 source of drugs that lead to murders, crowding in prisons and family disunion. Congressional ratification of the Colombia Free Trade agreement will help Colombia create jobs outside of the drug trade and reduce the export of these lethal products.--The Miami Herald

Colombia currently provides us with 90 percent of our cocaine and in the past, as much as 50.1 percent of our heroin. Colombian cartels and drug-funded terror group FARC help cause U.S. drug and crime problems.

Without free trade, Colombia's people will be forced to remain dependent on drugs as their most lucrative business. Even as the world's third largest producer of coffee, revenue from that industry pales in comparison. The annual profit on a hectare of coffee is $500 versus an estimated $5,000 for coca.

A study by Colombia's second largest university found that a Free Trade Agreement would increase investment in Colombia by 4.5 percent, decrease unemployment by 1.8 percent (460,000 jobs) and increase GDP by 4.5 percent.
The United States, particularly South Floridians, would benefit. In 2008, a quarter of all U.S. trade with Colombia came through South Florida ports. Ratification of the agreement would create jobs (1,700 for Floridians, according to Gov. Crist) and economic growth. The United States International Trade Commission estimates that with an agreement, exports to Colombia would increase by $1.1 billion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., asserts, ''The FTA will have a positive net effect on the U.S. economy.'' Senior Senate Finance Committee Republican Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, agrees. ``Opening up new markets for U.S. exporters should be part of the mindset to stimulate our economy.''

There is reasoned opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, ''There is widespread concern in Congress about the level of violence in Colombia, the impunity and the lack of investigations.'' Congress needs ''concrete evidence of sustained results.'' Pelosi is right to ask for results.

Since President Alvaro Uribe came into office in 2002, progress has been made. Uribe established a protection program for vulnerable groups in society (enrolling more union workers than any other group), worked with International Labor Organizations to create a unit that investigates violence against union leaders, placed police in every municipality, increased road security and enhanced training camps to educate military personnel on human-rights laws.

As a result of these initiatives, assassinations have declined by 80 percent, homicides by 40 percent, kidnappings by 82 percent and terrorist attacks by 77 percent.

Trade unions oppose ratification -- they cite 2,245 deaths of union leaders since 1991. However, 80 percent of these killings took place before Uribe took office .

Because of the recent drug-related violence in Mexico, the United States has committed $1.4 billion to help Mexico. Doesn't it make as much sense to help Colombia -- the primary exporting country -- stop the killing substances from coming to us?

In 1999, U.S. and Colombian officials created Plan Colombia, which provides Colombia with resources to combat cartels, replace coca farmers' lost income and eradicate drugs.

Congress and the White House can reduce the cocaine and heroin coming to our shores and killing our people by enacting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The issue of free trade is tricky because congressional leaders properly support workers' rights and wages. This agreement does that, and more.

Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office. Zoe Pagonis is an international relations representative at the Smith School of Business.

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