After all kinds of delays and false starts , the US-Peru free trade agreement was passed on Tuesday by the US Senate with a vote of 77-18.
The Peruvians are pleased with the fact that this was an unprecedented vote in favour of a trade agreement. By comparison, the Chile agreement was passed by 65-32 while the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) scraped through by 54-45 and is not counted as a 'treaty' by US law.
For Americans from both the main parties, the Peru deal has ended up being something of a no-brainer, for strategic rather than economic reasons. With Colombia unacceptable for the Democrats at the moment, and the rest of South America hostile or disinterested, the US was in danger of being left with no real friends between Costa Rica and Chile.
From Peru's perspective, there's not much doubt that the trade agreement will lead to further economic growth and more money flowing into the country. Whether that translates into material improvements for the majority of Peruvians depends greatly on the competence and commitment of the government. What is needed is the 'free trade agreement for the interior' promised by president Alan Garcia during the 2006 election campaign.
A good start would be to establish a system of compensation and assistance for the small agricultural producers who will be affected by competition from subsidised US imports. However, La Republica reports that the Peruvian government is still not sure of how such compensation will be provided, nor to whom. There is less than $40 million USD earmarked for this purpose, compared to a $4 billion fund in Mexico and $100 million in Chile. Minister of Argriculture Ismael Benavides said he couldn't explain the reasoning for this amount, since it was determined by the previous government. "I don't know who was the genius that came up with those figures", he said.