On Wednesday, October 12, the U.S. Congress engaged in a rare act of bipartisan agreement. Unfortunately, the House and Senate did not move together to address unemployment, the country's wealth gap, or other pressing matters of justice, but rather to pass a set of three misguided free trade agreements (FTAs) negotiated during the Bush administration. Both chambers approved FTAs with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, the last of which is especially troubling. NETWORK has lobbied for several years to oppose the Colombia FTA, and we are disappointed that the agreement passed.
The Colombia agreement is anticipated to have a serious negative impact on many of the most vulnerable people in that country. The agricultural provisions of the agreement will flood the Colombian market with cheap imported commodities, undermining the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and rural communities. This will only accelerate displacement and exacerbate the conditions of instability and conflict that have plagued Colombia for decades. The agreement does not take adequate steps to address pervasive labor abuses. Even the refinements negotiated by the Obama administration are insufficient. Also, intellectual property rights provisions in the agreement will increase the cost of medicines in Colombia and lead to reduced access to critical drugs.
The good news concerning Wednesday's vote is that a significant number of members of Congress stood in opposition to the flawed Colombia FTA. The months (years!) of lobbying by faith, labor, and human rights advocates helped to rally a strong statement of concern. NETWORK lobbyists made dozens of visits to congressional offices, and NETWORK members sent thousands of messages opposing the FTA. Unfortunately, President Obama had long ago abandoned his 2008 campaign promises to oppose the agreement, but nevertheless over 82 percent of Democrats voted against the Colombia FTA. Supporters of global trade justice should find reason for hope in the large number of votes against the agreement.
The coming months and years will challenge us to build on this work in fighting for fair and responsible trade agreements. The Obama administration has been working for over a year to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement between the U.S. and Pacific-rim countries. The administration has committed to securing a “high-standards” agreement, but it is unclear if this will amount to anything more than words. As the agreement proceeds through negotiations and eventually moves to the stage of congressional consideration, people of faith must raise the voice of justice to demand that U.S. global trade policies support authentic development and not merely corporate interests.
The passage of the Colombia FTA was a disappointing end to several years of advocacy on this issue, but it sets the stage for continued vigorous work to ensure just trade policy going forward.