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The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

President Obama has made clear since taking office that he wants to move forward with the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Until recently, however, no concrete action had been taken. In early April, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced that the Administration is prepared to submit the agreement to Congress in the coming months. The FTA was signed by President Bush in 2006 but has yet to be approved by Congress.

NETWORK has raised serious concerns about the Colombia Free Trade Agreement:

  • Violence against trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia remains unacceptably high. Despite promising rhetoric from the Santos Administration in Colombia and claims that violence against trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia has been on the decrease, disturbing levels of violence in fact persist. Between 2005 and 2009, more trade unionists were killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. Between June and October 2010 alone, 33 human rights defenders were killed. Impunity is widespread, with prosecutions lagging far behind incidents of killings and threats.
  • Agriculture provisions in the agreement will accelerate displacement and push people into illicit crop production. Land inequality in Colombia is among the highest in Latin America, and this unequal distribution lies at the heart of Colombia’s conflict. Colombia’s five million internally displaced people represent the world’s largest displacement crisis. This situation will only be exacerbated by the FTA, which is likely to accelerate land expropriation to benefit agro-export crops. The experience of Mexico under NAFTA has demonstrated the impact of agricultural provisions that will lead to a reduction of income for already poor farmers.
  • Investment provisions will allow foreign investors in extractive industries to displace poor Colombians. The situation of displaced people in Colombia is aggravated by the violent and illegal land seizures by paramilitary and guerrilla groups who profit from the sale of these lands to unscrupulous companies. The U.S.-Colombia FTA will exacerbate this crisis by encouraging mining and other extractive industry projects that would push communities off of their lands. These disastrous effects have been demonstrated by companies that have already invested in extractive industries such as mining and palm oil extraction. Colombia has seen increased inequality, food insecurity, environmental damage, displacement of indigenous communities, and marginalization of small-scale mining and traditional livelihoods.

The April 6 statement of the Obama Administration’s plan to move forward with the Colombia FTA was tied to the announcement of an agreement between the U.S. and Colombian governments to address labor conditions in Colombia. The two governments committed to an “Action Plan” that represents a significant achievement, but which unfortunately does not go far enough. The plan takes steps to protect union leaders, but does not require any actual reduction in violence. Even if violence does not decrease, the FTA will move forward. Also, the Action Plan does not address broader human rights concerns. It says nothing about dismantling paramilitaries, dealing with displaced people, or addressing the needs of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.

NETWORK urges President Obama not to submit the agreement to Congress. There is no possibility of just and fair trade when human rights are not respected. Without meaningful improvements in the area of human rights, a free trade agreement with Colombia should not even be on the table. Also, the agreement will increase the poverty and instability that underlie Colombia’s violent conflict. As a candidate, Barack Obama vowed to oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement until progress was made on human rights. These issues still stand, and for this reason we urge the President not to submit the agreement to Congress. If he does, Congress should reject it.

For more information, see the following resources: