The Colombia Free Trade Agreement Is an Affront to Human Dignity

On April 7, Presidents Obama and Santos announced a new “Colombian Action Plan Related to Labor Rights,” paving the way for a vote on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

While lauded by large business interests in the United States, labor and human rights advocates in both the U.S. and Colombia have argued that the plan is grossly insufficient.  This includes the largest labor confederations in each country — the United Center of Workers (CUT) and the Confederation of Workers (CTC) in Colombia and the AFL-CIO in the United States — as well as the Latin America Working Group, TransAfrica Forum, the Sierra Club, the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment and many others.

While the “Action Plan” contains some positive measures, it is by no means comprehensive on the issue of labor and human rights, ignoring wide swaths of human rights concerns that have been flagged for policymakers in both Colombia and the United States for many years.  Furthermore, the plan fails to include any benchmarks in terms of actual reductions in the number of assassinations of trade unionists, or even an increase in prosecutions of their assassins.

More disturbing still, the “Action Plan” is in no way legally binding.  It provides zero mechanisms for compliance once the Colombia FTA is implemented — making it in some ways weaker than even NAFTA’s ineffectual labor side agreement.

Beyond concerns regarding direct labor and human rights protections, the plan likewise fails to address agricultural and other economic aspects of the Colombia FTA that would destroy economic livelihoods in conflict-ridden regions of Colombia, exacerbating problems with internal displacement, illicit drug production, illegally-armed groups and forced migration.

Put simply:  the new “Action Plan” is by no means sufficient to accept passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Republican Congressional leaders had been demanding a path forward on the Colombia deal before they would allow the Korea Free Trade Agreement to advance without their opposition.  This new plan opens the door to the entire heinous trade package with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.

The Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements are expected to be voted upon separately, with the Korea pact most likely to come up first.  The outcome of the Korea vote will strongly influence if and when the Colombia and Panama FTAs follow.

Learn more about the Colombia Free Trade Agreement