Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced that his government has started renegotiating the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, a trade agreement that has been in effect between the two countries for 11 years.
“I would like to publicly announce that the renegotiations are beginning,” the head of state said during a meeting with coffee farmers in the southern city of Pitalito in the department of Huila.
Petro justified the decision by saying that his country is at a disadvantage in bilateral trade with the US because signing the free trade agreement means that many sectors of national production are unable to compete with their American counterparts.
“We import almost all of our corn from the US and Canada. If I could replace that corn with Colombian corn, I would have 1,200,000 more jobs—that is, wealth. Why can’t I do it? Because the free trade agreement I signed with the US a few years ago prohibits me from doing that,” he said.
Petro made the need to ditch the extractivist model one of his government’s main concerns and believes that the renegotiation of the FTA is essential for the country’s industrialization and agriculture in particular.
During his campaign for the Palacio de Nario, the seat of the executive branch, the then-candidate proposed changing the free trade agreement “to protect national agriculture” from US products that are available at very low prices.
However, his position is met with resistance in the business community. At the time, the Colombian-American Chamber of Commerce warned that the instrument would make it possible to increase bilateral flow, specifying that almost 12,000 Colombian products would have duty-free access to the United States thanks to the free trade agreement, while ten years ago it was about 5,500.
For their part, the opposition often warns that an amendment to the FTA to include new tariffs on imports would mean a similar response from the US government, potentially affecting the country’s economic “stability”.
According to the Colombian Ministry of Commerce, the free trade agreement, which came into force on May 15, 2012, made the United States the main buyer of goods and services exported by Colombia and one of the largest investors.
Colombia’s exports to the United States last year totaled $14,838 million, an amount largely explained by sales of oil, coal, and other mining products—an export matrix Petro wants to change.
“We want to exit mining; It doesn’t seem to us that this is the future of Colombia. We have to go back to the world of production and work,” Petro added.