President Obama has finally sent the pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea--three critical allies and trading partners--to Congress for ratification. After a tortuous and protracted process of bringing these agreements before Congress, passage would constitute a welcome sign of bipartisan cooperation during a profound economic crisis, when we need to create jobs for millions of Americans.
The American Jewish Committee has consistently supported passage in the firm belief that the agreements will enhance the wellbeing of the Americas and improve relations between the United States and some of its closest allies.
To be sure, this legislation is no panacea for the difficulties facing Latin American societies, which require profound political and socio-cultural reforms over many years that involve not only governments but every sector of society. Yet Free Trade Agreements, which have proven to be effective in generating sustained development, can help spur transformation in many spheres. They should also prove a catalyst for long-term political and strategic cooperation between the United States and its neighbors to the south.
The governments of Colombia and Panama, staunch allies of the United States, have invested much political capital in a bilateral Free Trade Agreement that would increase trade and investment flows, generate jobs and promote prosperity. But as the U.S. delayed, they have not stood still. Rather, they have diversified their trading partners to include China, Europe and others, challenging U.S. preeminence.
Latin America today faces threats both old and new to its stability and development. Although almost all nations in the region have democratic governments and are committed to the rule of law, crime, flaws in governance, lack of transparency, wide income disparities and absence of sustained development persist. These problems have generated the rise of populist and in some cases authoritarian governments that promise short-term improvements in living conditions.
It is high time for Congress to pass the pending agreements. This gesture will reinforce ties by broadcasting our country's ongoing commitment to the welfare of the Americas. Failure to vote approval will surely undermine friendly governments and trading partners and harm American interests.