Thursday, April 24, 2008

Better Roses Than Cocaine, Right?

Columbian Roses

I don't always agree with Nicholas Kristof, but he poses an excellent question to the Democrats on trade: "Better Roses Than Cocaine, right"?

For seven years, Democrats have rightfully complained that President Bush has gratuitously antagonized the world, exasperating our allies and eroding America’s standing and influence.

But now the Democrats are doing the same thing on trade. In Latin America, it is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who are seen as the go-it-alone cowboys, by opposing the United States’ free-trade agreement with Colombia.

Some Democrats claim that they are against the pact because Colombia has abused human rights. Those concerns are legitimate — but they shouldn’t be used to punish people like Norma Reynosa, a 35-year-old woman who just may snip the flowers that go into the Mother’s Day bouquet that you buy.

Human rights aren’t abstract to Ms. Reynosa. Two of her relatives were killed in the brutal warfare and insecurity that plague her home region in Colombia’s South. A third was killed by a land mine, and a fourth was kidnapped at age 12 to work for guerrillas in the National Liberation Army, or the ELN. Ms. Reynosa ran a small restaurant but had to flee when the guerrillas demanded that she pay more extortion money than she could afford.

“They said they would kill us,” she recalled. “They didn’t say how. Mostly they just shot people and threw their bodies in the river.”

So in June 2005, Ms. Reynosa and her husband abandoned their home and fled to the outskirts of the capital to see if they could get jobs in the booming flower industry. Colombian cities like Medellín were the most dangerous cities in the world in the 1980s and ’90s, but now they are thriving and homicide rates are well below those of some American cities.

One reason is those bouquets you buy, entering duty-free from Colombia. These days Colombia is the world’s second-largest exporter of flowers after the Netherlands, and almost 200,000 people work in the flower industry. Up to 28 cargo planes a day carry flowers from Colombia to the U.S.

Better carnations than cocaine, no?

Critics of the free-trade pact worry that it would hurt American workers. But Colombian goods already enter the U.S. duty-free; what would change is that American exporters would get access to the Colombian market.

(Colombia is pushing hard for the pact not because of any immediate trade benefit but because its duty-free access to the U.S. must be regularly renewed. Businesses are reluctant to invest in flower farms or garment factories unless they know that they will be able to export to the U.S. for many years to come.)
I have a lot of concerns on Democratic foreign policy, although I've mostly blogged on Iraq.

But a turn toward trade protection, for example,
in some "new deal" for American globalization, would be a disaster for the United States, and would further remove today's Democratic Party from the party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.

Photo Credit: New York Times