Jorge Robledo

A prominent Colombian senator and opposition political leader has rebuked Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday for the latter’s stated intention to sign a regional trade agreement that would roll back tariffs on 92% of goods entering Colombia from fellow Pacific Alliance members.

According to the official website of the Colombian Congress, Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo went as far as to equate a pending Pacific Alliance trade agreement with “treason,” as defined under articles 455 and 457 in the Colombian Penal Code, claiming that the proposed terms would be detrimental to the economic interests of Colombia.

“The signing of the Pacific Alliance is an act of treason against the country,” Robledo was quoted as saying, “because the deal gets rid of what little protections are left to national production, which will lead to the ruin of agriculture, industry and increase unemployment and production underdevelopment.”

The agreement in question would reportedly reduce import taxes on 92% of goods exchanged between the four Pacific Alliance member states: Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia.

MORE: Pacific Alliance to approve 92% tariff relief

President Santos is the official host of this year’s Pacific Alliance trade summit, held this year in Cartagena de Indias, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and is expected to sign the new tariff restrictions at some point during the coming week, along with his foreign counterparts.

MORE: Delegates arrive in Cartagena for start of Pacific Alliance trade summit 

Robledo, however, is also questioning whether the president has the right to unilaterally sign such a proposal. Robledo referenced the Society of Agricultural Producers of Colombia in accusing the president of attempting to “escape the ratification and study [of the trade deal] on the part of the Congress of the Republic.”

Marcela Eslava, a professor of economics at the University of the Andes in Bogota, notes that the other member countries of the Pacific Alliance are countries that Colombia already has economic treaties with and that the new tariff reduction will not be as drastic a change as the senator’s comments indicate.

In an interview with Colombia Reports, she said that the “main implication is that they (Pacific Alliance countries) will be able to add the benefits of access to the other three markets.”

The macro-economist went on to argue that entrepreneurs will actually be the primary beneficiaries of the agreement, as they will have access to cheaper or better raw materials. There will be some negative profitability in the short term for producers of raw materials, she said, but in the long run, productivity will increase because of increased local specialization.

Professor Eslava also clarified that the 7-8% of goods not implicated in the treaty are predominately agricultural goods toward which some countries in the Pacific Alliance, particularly Colombia, are more protectionist. A timeframe for tariff reduction on these agricultural goods is expected to occur slowly over the next 15 years.

Free trade became a subject of high controversy during nationwide agricultural strikes last fall. Robledo is among a handful of prominent politicians opposed to increased trade liberalism, but it appears highly unlikely that the Colombian President will alter his decision to approve the agreement prior to next Monday’s summit.


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