Globalization and The Medellin Economic Miracle, It's Saving Lives, But the Democrats Want to Stop It
MEDELLIN, Colombia -- This labyrinthine metropolis transformed over the course of a decade from a battlefield of drug lords, paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas into one of the safest, most dynamic cities in Latin America. Visionary inner-city renewal projects and a push to take back the lawless hillside slums by force deserve credit, but many here hail an unsung hero in Medellin's urban miracle -- globalization.
Exports surged in the 1990s as the United States granted temporary trade preferences to Colombia, allowing many of its products to enter the world's largest market duty-free. They really took off after 2002, when Washington expanded that agreement to include Colombia's all-important textile sector (see chart above). Humming assembly lines making Ralph Lauren socks and Levi's jeans sprang up across this picturesque Andean valley, creating tens of thousands of jobs and turning Medellin into a model of the curative power of liberalized trade.
The guns have quieted in Medellin. In 1991, the annual murder rate was 381 per 100,000 people -- a virtual war zone. In 2001, it was 174 per 100,000. Last year, it fell to 26 per 100,000, or lower than the District of Columbia (see chart above).
Colombia is also up against a resurgent global backlash to free trade -- including in the United States, the country that had spent the past two decades cajoling Latin America to open its markets. An election-year debate has politicians in Washington blaming globalization for the loss of U.S. jobs, holding up a vote in Congress on a free trade agreement with Colombia. That bill would make the current trade preferences permanent while allowing most U.S. products to enter Colombia duty-free.
Although strongly backed by the Bush administration, a free-trade pact with Colombia -- as well as other pending agreements with South Korea and Panama -- have been blocked by Democrats. Some are calling for a review of all future free trade agreements to assess their impact on U.S. workers.