U.S. Ambassador Kevin Whitaker kicked off the panel by focusing in particular on his country’s free-trade agreement with Colombia and how it helped Washington’s relations with the Andean country shift focus from security to commercial ties.
The diplomat addressed concerns about the negative impact of the trade deal in Colombia by arguing that it provides Colombian consumers with more and better options while proving an opportunity for Colombian exporters; since the trade deal went into effect, 1,900 Colombian companies, mostly in the manufacturing sector, have exported to the United States, he said. He admitted that there will at times be discord over trade, and that it is a challenge to have a good answer when he’s questioned on trade barriers or subsidies for products such as ethanol. But he commended Colombia for its progress, including on labor rights, and called on the country’s private sector to play a leading role when it comes to the post-conflict era.