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Talk radio’s favorite florist hinges on free trade with Colombia

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Listeners to radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity know — and likely have used — the flower delivery service ProFlowers.

The company, which frequently advertises on talk radio, is calling on Congress to extend the Andean Trade Preference Act (ATPA) and implement the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. ProFlowers maintains the pacts will help them avoid cutting back their operations or laying off workers.

The ATPA was a trade agreement enacted in 1991 with four South American countries (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) to give citizens alternatives to the drug trade, by allowing duty-free access for certain exports to America. It expired in February of this year.

The Colombia FTA is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Colombia granting reciprocal access without tariffs and trade barriers. It includes a retroactive extension of the ATPA. The FTA is currently awaiting congressional approval.

Colombia supplies 70 percent of the flowers Americans purchase; according to ProFlowers, the two agreements are essential to their streamlined business model, which focuses on delivering flowers direct to the consumer.

Abe Wynperle, president and COO of Provide Commerce, the parent company of ProFlowers, told TheDC that the new customs duty of up to 6.5 percent has already started hitting their customers. (FAA faces partial shutdown as midnight deadline passes)

“We had to pass those costs [on] to our consumers, and the interesting part of the story too is the highest import duties within that range, 6 percent plus, are on roses. And that is by far the most imported product that is produced in Colombia in the flower industry and consumed by folks here in the United States,” Wynperle said.

Wynperle noted that passing these costs on is especially difficult because flowers are normally a luxury item. If the cost remains high, the company will need to reexamine its business model, stop expansion, and even lay off employees.

“We have become a whole lot more careful because of some of the uncertainties in the market so that’s definitely not a good thing,” he said. “[I]t slows down the speed of capital expenditures and with that, of course, a by-product is you’re not building a new warehouse, you’re not writing checks to contractors and ultimately you’re not hiring people to build warehouses or at least you do it on a delayed timetable. … You may even see layoffs.”

The Obama administration supports the Columbia trade deal, but wants any agreement paired with an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, an initiative to provide benefits and services to workers who lose their jobs due to international trade. The Associated Press has reported that a dozen GOP senators have assured the TAA will pass.

While the administration is on board with free trade, its union allies are not as sanguine about such measures, believing the agreements will result in union job losses. They also argue that Colombia has been hostile to workers’ rights.

“In addition, our brothers and sisters in the Colombian labor movement, [those] in the Afro-Colombian community, and human rights advocates face a climate rife with crime and violence,” Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), wrote in a statement in April. “In Colombia, more trade unionists are murdered than anywhere else in the world, and the perpetrators are very rarely brought to justice. Since 2007, nearly 200 trade unionists have been murdered, including two in the past week.”

While there appears to be agreement on the need to pass the trade measure, with Congress roiled in the debt limit debate and set to leave for recess in early August there likely will be no action on any trade agreements this summer.

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