Man Bites Dog: California Legislature Takes Shot at Trade Agreement

For a California elected official, being in favor of free trade should be an easy call. Like being for the oil industry in Saudi Arabia or for windmills for Dutch.

Our state's economy is profoundly oriented to exports. Which is why it was a  bit surprising to see the California Assembly vote this week 43-24 on a resolution to oppose a U.S.  free trade agreement with the country of Colombia.

What explains the vote? Legislative Democrats, particularly those close to labor, are angry about violence against union activists and members in Colombia. Unions, with support from human rights groups, blame the conservative government for not doing more to restrain paramilitaries believed to be carrying out the violence.

It's a legitimate concern and a serious issue. But: Colombia's government is an ally of the United States. President Obama, who had expressed his own concerns about the agreement while he was in the Senate, is now pushing for approval of the trade agreement (which was negotiated by his predecessor). Some reports suggest the Colombian government has been working to provide more protection for labor; other reports differ.

In a complicated case, it's not clear what value there is in having the California legislature oppose the president on a matter related to free trade and foreign policy. And it's a vote that comes with some risk for a state that depends so heavily on trade. California's elected officials should be careful to send the unambiguous message that this state welcomes free trade.

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