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Free Trade

After nearly four years of negotiations, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and President George W. Bush signed a bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement in November of 2006. The agreement approved by the US Congress in October of 2011. The accord calls for a stronger flow of exports and imports between the two nations. Advocates of the legislation argue that it will help to boost Colombian economic growth by providing an international market for raw materials and products, and by stimulating competition within the country’s domestic economy.

Although the FTA will benefit some sectors, such as rising businesses in Colombia’s urban centers, it will adversely affect many more sections of the population. Small farmers in rural areas of the country lack the basic infrastructure necessary to successfully export. These farmers–who tend to be located in conflict zones and who have already been oppressed by the ongoing armed conflict–will certainly not be able to compete domestically with exports from the United States. View more information about the adverse effects of the current FTA on farming communities here.

Furthermore, laborers also stand to be adversely affected by the FTA. Despite the signing of the Labor Action Plan in April, 2011, many of the most criticized labor practices in Colombia continue in full force such as the use of exploitative cooperatives and collective pacts. According to Colombia’s National Labor School, the Colombian government has only implemented 28 out of the 37 commitments included in the Plan as of May, 2012, and many of those only partially. But most worrisome is that threats against and murders of labor leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia have continued unabated and the vast majority of these crimes remain in impunity. The concerns that led to the creation of the Labor Action Plan have clearly not been addressed and until impunity levels are reduced, we can expect that threats and attacks against and assassinations of union leaders will persist.

On top of the concerns about labor rights, the FTA could also have unintended consequences that undermine US policy in the region. For example, the devastation of small-scale farmers in Colombia who will now have to compete with US subsidized commodities. Studies show that Colombia’s 1.8 million small farmers will see their income fall over 16% on average and nearly 400,000 of the poorest farmers will lose between 48 and 70 of their income. This could push some to cultivate coca as an economic alternative, undermining US counter-narcotics efforts in the country.

Another concern is that development projects conducted by multinationals and U.S. companies will only cause further internal displacement and poverty. Many Democrats and some Republicans in the US Congress opposed the FTA. USOC commends the work of Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia, which is monitoring the implementation of the Labor Action Plan and the general human rights situation in Colombia. We will continue to work with the Monitoring Group to ensure that they have access to up-to-date information and analysis about the FTA’s effect on Colombia’s human rights situation.

The USOC is committed to facilitating information that frames the debate over any FTA with Colombia in the context of human rights, respect for territorial rights and labor rights for U.S. and Colombian workers.