Rep. David Scott of Georgia’s 13th Congressional District visited Colombia Jan. 24-25 with nine other House Democrats and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to assess economic and political conditions in the country ahead of a possible vote on a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
President Bush has signed free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, but Congress must ratify each before they can be implemented.
Mr. Scott’s statement prior to the trip expressed concern over violence in the South American country, but also that he is open to economic opportunities there.
“I plan on asking tough questions about violence against members of the press and union members on this trip,” the Atlanta congressman said. “In addition, I will be taking a close look at trade and business issues that may benefit Georgia companies.”
Mr. Scott was one of three Georgia congressmen to vote against the most recent free trade agreement to come before the House, the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act, when it passed 285-132 last November.
The delegation left Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington for Medellin, Colombia, Thursday, Jan. 24 and returned the following day.
Medellin, once notorious as a drug-trafficking center, is held up by proponents of the trade agreement as a symbol of Colombia’s economic resurgence under President Alvaro Uribe, who was elected in 2002.
In a Jan. 23 press release, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, who also traveled with the group, said that U.S. dignitaries would meet with businesspeople, the mayor of Medellin, demobilized militants and trade union officials with varying opinions about the proposed agreement.
This recent trip was part of the State Department’s policy of promoting the agreement with Colombia by taking Congressional representatives to see the country firsthand.
Camilo de Bedout, consul general for Colombia in Atlanta, told GlobalAtlanta that more than 50 U.S. legislators have visited his homeland in the past five years, including Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson and the late U.S. Rep. Charles Norwood of Augusta.
Mr. de Bedout said that passage of the free trade agreement could provide an opportunity for Georgians to import directly from Colombia through the Port of Savannah and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“We need to support using the facilities that we have in Georgia,” he said. “Instead of bringing things from Colombia to Miami, … it’s a great opportunity for Georgia to support bringing products here.”
Implementing the agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on 80 percent of American goods entering Colombia and phase out taxes on the rest over the next ten years. Colombian products already enter the U.S. duty-free under the Andean Trade Preference Act passed in 1991.