Guest Columns

SMITH: FREE TRADE, INTERNATIONAL TOURISM ARE KEY

Even so-called ‘small accomplishments’ will help with job creation in Colorado

“I’m less enamoured with big plans than I am with small accomplishments,” Monte Pascoe whispered to me during a cabinet meeting way back in 1982 when we were both working for Governor Dick Lamm.

Monte was a wonderful public servant and civic leader and I thought of him as President Obama was making his September 8 jobs speech. Yes, big ideas are important and often inspiring but rebuilding our shattered economy is going to take dozens of small accomplishments. There is no magic answer.

Several of these are close at hand. Although they won’t answer all of our job problems, they are a start.

The first is free trade and the second is international tourism. Let me explain.

On August 20, Gabriel Silva, the Colombian Ambassador to the United States, spoke in Santa Fe about the long-delayed US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. I have always supported this, mostly because it would be a way to reward Colombia, our strongest ally in Latin America and the one country that has stood up to Hugo Chávez, the virulently anti-American president of Venezuela. I wrote an article for The Statesman on April 13, 2007 to that effect but the story is quite different now.

Ambassador Silva pointed out that, although Colombia values the United States as a trading partner, it has had to move ahead with other countries because of these extended delays on our part. Accordingly, Colombia has signed free trade agreements with Mercosur, the coalition of South American countries; the European Union; and most recently, Canada.

As a result of these new agreements, our share of Colombia’s agriculture market has dropped from 46.5 percent in 2008 to 20.8 percent in 2010. At the same time, Argentina’s share of that market has increased from 13.8 percent to 28.2 percent in just two years.

And that’s only part of the problem because the Canada-Colombia agreement has just taken effect. The danger is that Canadians will capture the rest of our market. Since our farmers have been paying a 30 percent tariff, they were at a huge disadvantage.

One of Colombia’s major imports is wheat; they import 95 percent of what they consume. This is also an important Colorado crop. By essentially giving away that market, by letting the Argentines and Canadians outmaneuver us, we’ve been costing ourselves jobs both nationally and in Colorado.

Now the agreement has been signed as well as those with Korea and Panama. And Colorado, to the great credit of Governor John Hickenlooper and his Office of Economic Development and International Trade, is moving quickly to take advantage of the new agreement. Stephanie Garnica, the Director for Trade and Investment for the Americas has already organized a trade mission or seven or eight Colorado companies to go to Colombia in mid-November. Colorado will be the first state to take advantage of this opportunity. I hope that Colorado’s agricultural community will join in; especially the wheat growers.

Doing business internationally has never been a popular issue but the fact is that we export about $1.2 trillion of US products every year. This creates over 13 million American jobs. The new agreements will add to that total but we have to follow the lead of Hickenlooper and Garnica and move quickly.

The second issue relates to visas and international visitors. This is a huge business. International visitors spent over $12 billion in the US in June 2011. Unfortunately, our share of the world travel market has dropped from 17 percent in 2000 to 12.4 percent last year, largely because our visa process is so cumbersome and frustrating. For example, it can take as long as 145 days for someone from Brazil (a very rapidly growing market) to apply for a visa and 120 days in China. As a result, many potential visitors will, out of frustration, decide to spend their money in some other country.

If we had maintained that 17 percent it would have meant 78 million more visitors and another $606 billion in revenue during this ten year period.

Back in 2002 when the Euro went into effect, it was worth less than the dollar. Now it is at $1.36. Our dollar has plummeted in value. This gives international travelers, not just Europeans, an enormous incentive to come here, vacation and spend money. Simplifying the visa process would be another “small accomplishment” that could create thousands of jobs for Americans.

The visa issue is similar to the Colombia trade agreement; we simply expect the rest of the world to play by our rules. But that doesn’t work. Other countries are taking their business elsewhere and we are the losers. So while we debate the “big plans”, let’s also focus on “small accomplishments,” as Monte Pascoe would have put it.

Morgan Smith is a former state representative and Director of the Colorado International Trade Office. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.