U.S. Chamber President Says Colombia Trade Deal Implementation Close

Tom Donohue says there is 'no obstacle in the way' of an agreement.

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CARTAGENA, Colombia — There's "no obstacle in the way" of implementing the U.S. free trade agreement with Colombia, said Tom Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who spoke in the South American country Thursday in advance of the Sixth Summit of the Americas this weekend.

On the eve of Friday's CEO Summit, which will bring together nearly a dozen heads of state and more than 200 international executives, Donohue presented the Chamber's plan for the Americas, calling for more trade, a greater commitment to energy development in the hemisphere and the free flow of people, goods and money across regional borders.

He also added to speculation among Summit participants that the implementation of the much-anticipated free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia was close at hand. According to Donohue, after a "long-fought" battle for its approval in Congress last fall, all that remains is "bureaucratic paperwork and exchange of documents," and that the pressure is now on President Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to move the agreement forward.

"It's all taken care of. All we've got to do is say 'Go,' " he said, later adding, "I think it could all get sort of blessed this weekend."

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Santos and Obama have plans this Sunday for a bilateral meeting and joint press conference, where some have speculated they will make an announcement about the agreement.

Though the trade deal with Colombia marks a significant achievement for the Chamber, which worked diligently to bring it through Congress last year, Donohue emphasized Thursday that efforts to enhance trade with Latin America are not over.

"We have to double-down on trade all across the Americas. There is no better or faster way to create jobs, grow economies or lift people out of poverty," he said.

Already, according to the Chamber, the United States exports almost as much to its neighbors in the Americas as it does to the European Union and Asia combined.

According to Donohue, expanding the United States' trade relationship with Brazil should be a top priority. He argued that broadening the country's bilateral relationship with Brazil could improve business prospects for the region overall.

"Now is the time to start a serious conversation between the first and the sixth largest economies on Earth, two markets with a combined population of 520 million people," Donohue said.

Donohue also took a jab at members of Congress who have pushed for policies that aim to protect U.S. businesses from competition in the global trade arena. He said such policies instead hurt businesses by distorting the markets, and he discouraged them in any further trade discussions.

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"We are not going to have buy America policies, buy Brazil policies, buy Mexico policies, buy anybody's policies. We need open markets," he said. "Buy America policies do nothing but cost us jobs, cost us exports, cost us unbelievable amounts of revenue."

In addition, Donohue—channeling Obama´s rhetoric from recent months—encouraged an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy in the natural-resource-rich region. He mentioned Colombia especially as an important partner in energy production.

"Our challenge, and the opportunity, is to match the resources with the capital and ensure that energy technologies, talent, and expertise can be shared in the region, so we can figure out how to do this in the most cost-effective way," he said.

Behind trade and energy, Donohue rounded out his proposed agenda with a plea for better immigration policies in the United States. He argued that many current policies are "not too smart" and limit the potential for export promotion and the improvement of domestic human capital.

"For the nations of the Americas, trade isn't 'You win, I lose.' Trade is 'We both win,' " he said. "As long as it has its fundamental core of democracy, of free trade, of free people, there's nothing we can't do."