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A presidential accomplishment

August 18, 2011 - Mike Maneval
In the nearly three years since his election, President Barack Obama has fallen short of his campaign rhetoric in ways that haven't surprised me — the inclusion of lobbyists in his administration, a slower withdrawal in Iraq that may well prove to be more a reduction in our scope of operations — and have surprised me — the looming, burdensome consumer mandate for health insurance, his inability to advance tougher transparency rules.

But there is one area of policy on which the president is not failing to the extent I — perhaps more pessimistic than I should be— expected: Trade.

True, the North American Free Trade Agreement is not being renegotiated as he said he would on the campaign trail, and nothing has been done to reform trade disparities with China, probably our worst trade partner.

But while a trade between Canada and Colombia went into effect this past week, a trade deal between the U.S. and Colombia is moving at a more prudent and cautious pace — despite the frustration and anger of free-market transnationalists. While specific details are lacking, the Obama administration has spent the nearly three years since a potential agreement between the U.S. and Colombia first was broached securing human rights and labor rights concessions.

And for good reason. When the idea of a formal agreement to guarantee preferential trade policies for Colombia surfaced, Colombia's record on human rights was abysmal — advocates of unionizing were frequently killed, and those killing often went unsolved — often, as in about 99 percent went unsolved. And Colombian life reflects it: Earnings for work and household income in Colombia lag far behind the U.S. and the rest of the developed world.

Now in the past few years, the violence upon the liberties of Colombia's labor activists have declined. The administration's recalcitrance has, at least to some extent, worked. Had the deal been completed when labor activists were being summarily executed for exercising their God-given rights to assemble, speak and organize, Colombia would have little if any pressure to improve. President Obama, lobbyists on his staff or not, is withholding a deal until the economic climate in Colombia respects the liberties of members of the workforce. And that is one accomplishment he can run on next time.


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