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Textile Interests Support Colombian FTA

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

Although congressional ratification of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) has been held up for more than year over concerns about rampant crime and labor abuses, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) says Colombia has cleaned up its act and the pact should be approved.

In a letter to the chairman of the US Trade Representative's Trade Policy Staff Committee, NCTO Vice President Michael S. Hubbard said members of his association who have worked in Colombia for years through selling offices and joint ventures say they have witnessed the gains Colombia has made with regard to protection of Colombian workers' fundamental rights and "an extraordinary reduction in violence in the country." He also underscored the importance of more liberal trade with Colombia to the US textile industry.

Saying that Colombia is a small but important market for US textile products, Hubbard said US exports are not commodity products but higher-value-added goods such as yarns, premium denim and wool products. He said at the present time, under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, Colombian exports enter the United States duty-free but US goods going into Colombia are subject to high tariffs.  He said the FTA would level the playing field and benefit manufacturers in both countries.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) has opposed the FTA, charging that the Colombian government has turned its back on murders of labor leaders and organizers. Until the AFL-CIO changes its position, it is unlikely the Obama administration or the Democratic-controlled Congress will move forward with the pact.

The American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which includes textile manufacturers, is opposed to the FTA, contending it will result in one-sided trade because Colombia is not a good market for US manufactured goods. The National Textile Association, likewise, does not support the pact because it does not meet its criteria for effective agreements.

October 6, 2009