Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Poor Year for Free Trade

'United States beats Colombia in first year of Free Trade Agreement,' headlines Sunday's El Tiempo.
The numbers are in, and they don't look great for Colombia.

After one year of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States imports from the US have shot up, but Colombia's non-traditional exports to the U.S. have risen little.

Potato farmers protest the Free Trade Agreement
recently in Bogotá.
The advocates, who called the FTA key for Colombia's economic growth, point out that the United States' economy has had a troubled year, which has generated weak imports. And, in fact, the first year's results show some hopeful signs: hundreds of small Colombian businesses have exported their products to many different parts of the U.S. And, encouragingly, the exports being sold to the gringos include manufactured products like vehicle parts, which generate skilled employment back here in Colombia. Close to 200 new products are being exported to the States, according to the Colombian government's count.

The benefits weren't equally distributed, however. While hundreds of companies based in big cities including Bogotá, Barranquilla and Cartagena started exporting to the States, traditionally poor regions like El Cauca and El Chocó benefited little.

'Exports to the U.S. didn't grow,'
reports El Espectador.
On the other hand, some Colombian exports, including agricultural products, declined.

But I've seen relatively little attention to the new imports, which are heavy on agricultural products, and their impacts. That's not surprising, since the U.S. heavily subsidizes its farming industry. A neighborhood nut seller told me that the importer he buys from has switched from Chilean to U.S. suppliers. Some of the US nuts were good quality, he said, but others didn't match the Chileans' quality.

I'd like to know what proportion of these agricultural imports are making healthy foods less expensive and more available, and what proportion is adding to the flood of cheap junk foods, which benefit nobody but their marketers. And then there are the cheaper cars, to jam Colombia's roads and poison its air.

And how about the victims, such as potato farmers, who now have to compete with mechanized U.S. megafarms, which receive huge subsidies from Washington?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: