2006-05-08 16:59:00
Embassy Bogota
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 004066 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2015

REF: A) BOGOTA 4004 B) BOGOTA 2283

Classified By: DCM Milton K. Drucker for Reasons 1.4 (b&d).

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 004066


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2015

REF: A) BOGOTA 4004 B) BOGOTA 2283

Classified By: DCM Milton K. Drucker for Reasons 1.4 (b&d).

1. (C) Summary: The GOC is concerned over what it perceives
as bad faith negotiating on the part of mid-level USTR
officials. While senior Colombia trade officials have
generally been reserved in public statements about the status
of the FTA final texts, recent press reports indicate the GOC
is running out of patience. At the request of the GOC, the
final FTA texts may soon be published, but without the
agriculture chapter. Senior USTR and GOC officials will meet
on May 9 to review descrepencies in the agriculture chapter,
after lower-level eforts to reconcile the texts were not
successful. A quick reconcilliation of the ag chapter will
ease critics' suspicions that the U.S. and GOC negotiators
are hiding provisions deep within the agriculture text.
During this period of increased tension in the Andean
Community, our FTAs with Colombia and Peru represent an
attractive alternative to other regional influences. End


2. (C) Post and USG agencies told the GOC soon after FTA
negotiations were completed in February that the verification
of the FTA texts was a time consuming process. The GOC
initially had hoped to quickly complete the verification of
texts and move toward the signing, U.S. Congressional
notification, and ratification of the agreement. GOC
officials waited patiently for the USTR version of the text,
but as March gave way to April, Trade Minister Botero began
to privately and then publicly express concern over the
delay. After Holy Week in mid-April, GOC trade officials
reported that President Uribe, who has made the FTA an
important plank of his reelection campaign, was having
trouble defending the agreement in Colombia,s congress
without a finalized text. The fact that a majority of the
U.S. text was ready for exchange and only the agricultural
text was keeping the process from moving forward raised
familiar concerns among Colombia,s protectionist agriculture


3. (C) On April 26, USTR transmitted to Colombia the U.S.

version of the final text. While initially pleased they
finally had the text, the GOC quickly identified five (in
their view) significant discrepancies in the agriculture
text. On May 2, the GOC and USTR held a conference call to
discuss the verification of the FTA texts. According to the
GOC, the conversation did not go well. Discouraged by the
lack of progress at the working level in resolving these
differences, Minister of Agriculture Andres Arias identified
the following areas of concern in a May 3rd letter to USTR
Ambassador Crowder:

-- definitions related to the agreement on chicken leg
-- the U.S. alternative proposal concerning administration of
the TRQ on rice and chicken leg quarters through the use of
an export trading company
-- reference to the Certificate of Quota Eligibility in the
administration of the sugar quota
-- differences in growth rates of the crude soy bean oil and
variety meats, along with safeguard measures on spent fowl
and beans
-- other tariff line and text discrepancies

In the letter, Minister Arias requested a meeting with
Ambassador Crowder to resolves these differences, which will
take place on Tuesday, May 9 in Washington.

Colombia Questions Our Good Faith

4. (C) The delay in passing along the U.S. FTA text, the
differences found in the agricultural chapters, and the
USG,s perceived lack of attention to Colombia,s concerns
have raised the public profile of what is normally a quiet
government-to-government review of a negotiated agreement.
During the week of May 2, Senior Colombian trade officials
were called before members of the Colombian Congress to
respond to questions concerning the delay in publication of
the FTA texts. During these sessions, Trade Minister Botero
and Agriculture Minister Arias reported that differences in
the USG version of the agriculture text were holding up the
verification process. The Colombian press seized upon this
testimony and generated a number of reports accusing the U.S.
of negotiating in bad faith through attempts to renegotiate
the most sensitive areas of the agriculture deal.

Concerns Merit Press Play

5. (U) After the initial flurry of reporting on the end of
negotiations and the GOC's roll out of the agreement (Ref B),
the press is now questioning the delay in publishing the FTA
text. These reports and others (Ref A) concerning
descrepencies in the agriculture text are providing FTA
critics an opportunity to attack the negotiation and
verification process as lacking transparency. Several
liberal party politicians have come out against the FTA in
press, suggesting the delay in publishing the text is an
inidcation the U.S. and GOC are hiding sensitive provisions
from the public. The verification of the FTA text is
front-page news in Colombia, and a critical mass of negative
local reporting during this stage of the FTA process could
affect ratification.

Way Forward

6. (C) At the request of the GOC, the final FTA text,
excluding the agriculture chapter, will likely be published
early in the week of May 8. FTA critics and press reports
will likely focus on the absence of the agriculture chapter
as confirmation that the two parties are far apart on
sensitive issues that were suposedly concluded in February.
Colombian officials hope the May 9 meeting with Ambassador
Crowder will quickly resolve their concerns over
discrepancies found in the ag chapter and quiet public debate
of U.S. intentions. The GOC will then focus on the signing
of the FTA and ratification of the agreement through
Colombia,s congress. President Uribe will likely kick off
the national debate concerning the FTA when he opens the new
session of Congress on July 20. The recent congressional
elections resulted in a significant number of new
legislators, and the GOC is preparing FTA-related materials
public relations strategies designed to win the support of
these new members of congress. Parties that support
President Uribe did very well in the election, and Ministry
of Commerce officials are confident they will win
ratification, perhaps as early as the end of this year (Note:
There is no required consultation period between the signing
and ratification of the agreement. Debate on the FTA can
begin in Colombia,s congress without a signed version of the


7. (C) Colombian trade officials are frustrated with the
USG. The GOC considers itself an important ally of the U.S.
and one of the region,s strongest supporters of free trade.
They are puzzled by a perceived lack of USG interest in
moving forward with their agreement. Given the recent
turmoil in the Community of Andean Nations and the
nationalization of the Bolivian gas fields, moving forward as
quickly and collaboratively as possible on this FTA would
provide an attractive alternative vision for the future of
the region. Publishing the FTA text without the agriculture
chapter will raise even more questions about U.S. intentions.