Last week, I attended a meeting of the Council of the Americas, at which Juan Carlos Echeverry, Minister of Finance for Colombia, gave a presentation titled “Democratic Prosperity in Colombia and Main Challenges of the Santos Administration.” The Council of the Americas is an international business organization, and several of its members present at the meeting expressed their support for the pending Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was signed by President Bush in 2006, but has not been approved by the U.S. Congress.
Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos supports the Colombia FTA, and Mr. Echeverry affirmed that support. This is, of course, the position that an international business group would like to hear. The truth, however, is that the Colombia Free Trade Agreement will undermine – not enhance – democratic prosperity in Colombia.
The Colombia FTA will threaten conditions for family farmers in Colombia by requiring it to lower tariffs on agricultural imports. Colombian farmers could face the same fate as 1.3 million Mexican farmers who were displaced when heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products flooded the Mexican market after NAFTA was signed. The Colombia FTA will impose restrictions on the regulatory tools that the Colombian government can use to ensure safety and fairness for its citizens. The FTA also includes elements that undermine the right to affordable medicines, which could further damage a Colombian health system that only covers ten percent of Afro-Colombians.
Moreover, the case of Colombia is of extreme concern because of the longstanding egregious human rights situations. In the last six years, more trade unionists have been killed in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. The FTA will reward Colombian government and business elites for their misconduct while deepening the economic disparity, which is a root cause of the conflict.
In his presentation, Mr. Echeverry described several initiatives that the Santos administration is undertaking to advance economic growth in Colombia, including strengthening the agricultural sector and improving services for internally displaced persons. These are important goals, but their achievement will be hampered if the Colombia FTA goes into effect. Colombia is in need of meaningful social development that does not leave poor people behind. Expanding the failed NAFTA model of trade is no way to make this happen. NETWORK will continue to work to oppose the Colombia FTA if it comes up for consideration in Congress next year.