Five Reasons Why Colombia Trade Agreement Is Still a Bad Idea

The U.S. and Colombian governments signed a “Labor Action Plan” on April 7 that sets the groundwork for a Congressional vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The Colombia trade deal was signed in November 2006 but has since been stalled, primarily due to concerns over still-rampant violence against unionists and impunity for the perpetrators.

The Labor Action Plan attempts to quell criticism that a trade agreement would benefit the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a unionist by outlining steps the Colombian government must take by July, including the reestablishment of the Ministry of Labor and increased protection for threatened trade unionists.

Four years later, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement is still a bad idea, “action plan” or no.

Here are five reasons why:

ColombiaFTA: The U.S. and Colombian governments signed a “Labor Action Plan,” setting the groundwork for a Congressional vote on a free trade agreement (or TLC, in Spanish). “Action plan” or no, the trade deal is still a bad idea. Photo: USLEAP.Congress is preparing to vote on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (or TLC, in Spanish). Even with a "labor action plan,” the trade deal is still a bad idea. Photo: AFL-CIO.

1. Colombia is the Still the Most Dangerous Country in the World to Be a Unionist.

In spite of claims that violence in Colombia has decreased recently, the numbers say otherwise. In 2009, 47 unionists were killed; in 2010, there were 51, almost more than the rest of the world combined. And yet there is no requirement in the Obama administration’s “action plan” that Colombia reduce anti-union violence as a precondition for approving the trade deal. The same number of unionists could be killed with the plan as without it.

2. Impunity Continues Unabated.

The impunity rate for unresolved cases of violence against unionists is 96 percent. New murders are outstripping convictions for old murders, so the Colombian government is not making any progress reducing the backlog of pending cases. In 2008, the net progress on combating impunity was zero. In 2009, the backlog actually increased, with new convictions for the murder of 41 trade unionists more than offset by the 47 assassinations committed in 2009. The “action plan” does not require the Colombian government to reduce impunity.

3. Ineffective and Unenforced.



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Although the Labor Action Plan includes a number of important measures requested by Colombian unions, the Obama administration is seeking ratification and implementation of the deal by the end of the year, long before we have a chance to evaluate its effectiveness. Moreover, there is no mechanism to ensure compliance with the Labor Action Plan after the Colombia trade deal is implemented.

4. More Violence, More Drugs, More Oppression.

As a result of highly subsidized U.S. imports flooding the market, the Colombian government itself anticipates at least a 35 percent decline in agricultural employment if the trade deal goes through. Without jobs, farmers may be forced to migrate to cities or turn to illicit crop production, perpetuating violence and undermining the United States’ own war on drugs. Those most affected will be Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that have faced increasing persecution and displacement by armed groups, including the Colombian military.

5. Perpetuates a Failed Model.

Despite any potential gains achieved through the Labor Action Plan, the Colombia trade agreement is fundamentally an extension of the failed NAFTA trade and investment model at its core. Like NAFTA, it expands rights for businesses and provides ineffective protections for labor. This type of trade deal accelerates a race to the bottom for workers, undermining environmental and consumer protections, exposing small producers to unfettered "competition" from big capital, and devastating small farmers.

For more labor perspectives on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement and ideas for action, check out USLEAP’s Stop the Colombia FTA Toolkit.

Rebecca Van Horn is program coordinator at the U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project.