11/22/2006 05:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

With America's Economy at a Crossroads, the Colombia FTA is the Wrong

Over the past decade, our trade policy has run amok.

We have learned the hard way from NAFTA - and the deals like CAFTA that have spawned from it - that our skepticism of the free trade model is well-founded.

Real wages for American families are down. Our trade deficit is in the tens of billions of dollars. Our manufacturing base is falling apart.

Now, we are at an important turning point. The recent mid-term elections
demonstrated that the American people are unhappy with the course of the
U.S. economy. They are tired of seeing these free trade deals put American
workers into an impossible competition with labor markets abroad that are
cheap due to a lack of environmental and worker protections.

Ignoring the voice of the American people, the Bush Administration signed a
free trade deal with Colombia on Wednesday. This agreement is another
expansion of the bad NAFTA model that will ultimately harm working families
in the U.S. and in Colombia. The U.S. stands to lose even more
manufacturing jobs to cheap labor abroad.

In Colombia, it could be even worse. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement
(FTA) will gut that country's legitimate agricultural industry, which will
likely lead to higher production of drug crops by farmers who can't afford
to compete with subsidized American produce. Also, Colombia is one of the
most dangerous countries in the world for worker advocates, with regular
assaults and assassinations against labor leaders.

Here's the good news. First, the special "fast track" authority that
allowed these poorly conceived trade deals to be negotiated is about to end.

There is also a committed and talented group of bipartisan Members of
Congress working to bring about a new trade policy for the United States.
We understand the basic economic rule that there is no such thing as a free
lunch. Real economic growth comes from increased innovation, efficiency,
and improved productivity - not forced labor, currency manipulation, or
artificially low wages.

Finally, U.S. and Colombian legislators have the power to block the passage
of the FTA. The deal must have final legislative approval in both countries
to be implemented.

I'm traveling next week to Colombia to talk with local leaders about the
potential consequences of the proposed FTA. I'll be meeting with members of
the Colombian legislature, as well as civil society leaders and students.
Together, we will show that President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe underestimated their opposition when they signed this bad trade deal.

This trip will be about forging a new direction in U.S. trade policy. The
NAFTA model is simply failing our country. We can no longer afford to be
asleep at the wheel of trade policy. We must demand equal standards, stop
exporting jobs, and start exporting more goods and services.