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U.S. Statement on the Trade Policy Review of Colombia
June 27, 2012

WTO Trade Policy Review of Colombia
Statement delivered by Ambassador Michael Punke
U.S. Permanent Representative to the WTO
June 26, 2012

(as delivered)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

On behalf of the United States, I would like to warmly welcome the Colombian delegation on the occasion of this trade policy review of Colombia.  We are especially pleased to welcome Gabriel Duque, Colombia’s Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and the leader of his government’s delegation today.  In addition, we greatly appreciate the reports prepared by the Government of Colombia and the WTO Secretariat, and circulated for WTO Members’ consideration prior to this meeting.  Finally, we appreciate the remarks prepared by our discussant, Ambassador Tim Yeend (Australia), as his observations will facilitate our important work here today.

Today’s review comes at a pivotal moment in the U.S.-Colombia trade relationship, just weeks after the entry into force of our bilateral free trade agreement.  U.S. trade with Colombia has already shown dramatic increases over time, with both exports and imports more than doubling since Colombia’s last WTO trade policy review in 2006.  Looking back, on the one hand, the United States’ Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) served to stimulate growth in much of that trade, offering duty free access beyond what was available under the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences.  However, the new bilateral free trade agreement went even further, helping to create a long term relationship that provides confidence and stability to investors.  We fully anticipate that our new agreement will not only greatly intensify our trade and investment relationship, but will also push our broader relationship towards its full potential.

Colombia is currently our 25th largest goods trading partner with $37.4 billion in total two way goods trade during 2011.  The United States imported a total of $23.1 billion in goods from Colombia in 2011, an increase of 47.6% from 2010.  U.S. goods exports to Colombia totaled $14.3 billion in 2011, an 18.7% increase from 2010.  The U.S. goods trade deficit with Colombia was $8.8 billion in 2011.

Of course, Colombia’s trade initiatives have not just focused on its trade relationship with the United States.  Colombia has continued the arc of its transformation from a more inward-looking economy to one that embraces trade and economic relationships around the world.  We are grateful for Ambassador Eduardo Munoz’s leadership in Geneva on a range of issues.  Colombia’s trade negotiators are constructive contributors to work in the World Trade Organization while also seeking market opening deals in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Some of those deals are in force, some will be soon, and others are at different stages of negotiation.  But the key is that the Colombian government sees the potential of expanded trade to accelerate its development and lift more people out of poverty.

We commend Colombia for pursuing a number of pro-trade domestic policies that enhance its competitiveness and foster an improved business climate.  Major security improvements have made much of the progress possible, but another significant contributor has been sound fiscal and macroeconomic management policies that allowed Colombia to achieve investment grade level credit ratings.  Conservative lending practices by Colombia’s financial institutions lessened the impact of the global economic crisis.  Colombia’s efforts to facilitate small business formation have helped draw tens of thousands of people into the formal sector.  The government has worked to increase regulatory transparency and accountability.  The OECD Investment Group has recognized the exceptional progress Colombia has made in fostering a sound investment climate.  We also commend Colombia on taking the steps necessary to become the 74th member of the WTO Information Technology Agreement.

It is worth noting that the Colombian government has also taken action to promote social justice and heal many of the scars of the past.  It has enacted landmark legislation to compensate victims of violence and to restore land to displaced persons.  It has enacted and begun to enforce significant new disciplines to ensure respect for labor rights and has invited an increased International Labor Organization presence.  All of these actions are building blocks for generating social harmony and creating conditions for long term growth and an emerging middle class.

Challenges for Colombia do remain.  Transportation infrastructure deficiencies can slow development and hinder Colombia’s efforts to improve its competitiveness.  However, we recognize that the government is devoting significant resources to addressing this concern.  The government of Colombia will also need to work with some of its less competitive sectors to help them adapt to the new environment presented by Colombia’s many free trade agreements, shifting production in some cases to take advantage of new opportunities.  Colombia will need to make continued progress with respect to the enforcement of intellectual property rights, including by increasing the number of investigations and enhancing coordination of enforcement efforts among its agencies.

We have submitted a short list of questions seeking additional information on a few aspects of Colombia’s trade regime, such as customs valuation practices, intellectual property rights, and import licensing.  Thank you for your replies, which we look forward to reviewing.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the United States appreciates the opportunity to participate in this review.  It affords us an occasion to celebrate the extraordinary strides Colombia has achieved to address impediments to its progress and to truly emerge onto the world stage as a highly-engaged and constructive player within the region as well as the broader multilateral trading system.  We look forward to continued close cooperation with Colombian authorities to deepen our cooperation bilaterally, in regional fora, and in the WTO.  Thank you.