History has taught us that other than raising taxes, nothing can be more damaging to the United States than assuming a protectionist posture during a time of economic downturn. But that's exactly the situation after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to bar a vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
It is important the United States gains equitable access to the markets of fast-growing developing nations like Colombia. Colombian-produced goods already enter the United States duty free, but American-manufactured goods exported to that country face stiff tariffs, ranging from 8 percent to as high as 15 percent. The agreement, in other words, would level the playing field for the benefit of the United States.
Expanding free trade would provide American companies with new opportunities to grow. If enacted, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement would lift tariffs immediately on more than 80 percent of U.S.-produced consumer and industrial goods, and all goods would be duty free in 10 years.
Exports are currently the fastest growing part of our economy, increasing $2.4 billion in January -- an increase of 16.6 percent from last year. If that pace continues, net exports should add more than 1 percentage point to overall economic growth.
In Arizona alone, manufacturing accounts for more than 8 percent of the state's economy, and of the manufactured products produced, nearly 80 percent were exported. In fact, nearly one-fourth of Arizonans in manufacturing jobs depend on exports for their jobs.
Earlier this month, the president sent the agreement to Congress for its consideration. Under the Trade Promotion Authority -- also known as the "fast track" authority -- the U.S. House of Representatives had 60 days to vote on the agreement, after which the Senate had 30 days. Speaker Pelosi decided, instead, to change the rules, scrap the authority, and hold the agreement hostage to unrelated demands from Congressional Democrats.
This decision by the speaker not only endangers the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, it also threatens all future trade agreements negotiated by the president. As CongressDaily, a Capitol Hill publication, recently reported, Pelosi's action on the "Colombia [Free Trade Agreement] demonstrated that fast track can be changed at any time, no country can be reassured by a U.S. president having negotiating authority."
The Colombia accord also has important national security implications. As former Secretary of State James Baker wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Colombia has long been a valued ally in a region that is increasingly becoming adverse toward our interests. Bolivia and Ecuador are to one degree or another antagonistic toward the U.S., and Venezuela is outright hostile .... Colombia is at a crossroads; it is literally besieged on all sides. As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in September, ‘If the U.S. turns its back on its friends in Colombia, this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator could hope to achieve.'"
Expanding free trade would provide American companies with new opportunities to grow; therefore, it is critical Congress approve pending trade agreements with nations like Colombia, Panama and South Korea. But unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi has allowed politics to trump free trade at the expense of our economic and national security.