The Bilateral U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Portends Disaster for Colombia’s Countryside
As Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos visited President Obama in Washington, the U. S. government released several so-called “fact sheets” praising the deal, which President Obama seems eager to pass through Congress. The “fact sheets” tout a predicted increase in U.S. exports to Colombia of $1billion as a result of the FTA. The Agreement calls for protection of Colombian labor union members and a guarantee of unions’ right to exist. It helpfully provides that Colombia promise to end the substitution of management-controlled “cooperatives” for worker-formed labor unions. And it calls for prosecution of those who kill labor union leaders and new legislation to extend effective protection to them.
The problem is that the Colombian government has in the past made promises to protect labor leaders and the right to form unions, but has not followed through effectively on these promises. Killings of labor union members and their leaders continue unabated, many by assassins paid for by transnational corporations such as Chiquita Brands (for which corporate attorney Eric Holder negotiated a $25 million dollar fine, none of which as far as we know has gone to the families of victims of the contract murders) and Drummond Coal. Instead of requiring demonstrable progress in reducing violence against labor union members, the Obama administration is content to rely on promises by Colombia to do better in the future.
But the more serious failing of the FTA is its elimination of Colombian tariffs on many U.S. exports which will have the very likely effect (as did NAFTA for Mexico) of impoverishing Colombia’s small-scale farmers, or campesinos. One “fact sheet” lauds the Agreement’s elimination of protective tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports to Colombia. Tariffs on wheat and barley, soybeans and soybean products, cotton and processed products will be eliminated immediately, while 2.5 million metric tons of corn will enter duty free at once, and the remainder of corn exports will enter Colombia duty-free within 25 years. Moreover, tariffs on beef, bacon, and almost all fruit and vegetable products will be eliminated immediately. Did anyone ask what the Colombia campesino is going to be able to grow at a competitive price, given the influx of farm products from the U.S., many of them highly subsidized by the U.S. government? This country subsidizes many agricultural products, but we do not let other countries do so in our trade agreements. And, given the lack of farm-to-market roads and agricultural credit sources for campesinos, how do we expect them to compete price-wise?
There are also provisions for protection of intellectual property rights which may undermine Colombians’ control of their medicinal resources and cultural heritage, including music and movies. And favorable rules for investment from the U.S., added to already giveaway levels of royalties and taxes on foreign mining interests, mean scant protection for Colombian patrimony.
While the FTA may be good for the U.S. in several respects in the short run, it portends disaster for Colombia and, as a result, is not in the best interests of the U. S. either. Write to President Obama to express your concern. And write to your representatives in the U.S. Congress to tell them to vote against the FTA with Colombia.
June 23 , 2011
JOHN I. LAUN
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