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Despite anti-union violence concerns, Colombia trade agreement comes to the Senate

The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance will hold hearings today to consider bills to implement three free trade agreements, including the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, mired in controversy since its proposal under the Bush administration.

President Obama sent the trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to Congress last week, and by Wednesday the House Ways and Means committee had approved the agreement, opening the path to a vote in the full House possibly this week.

Enterprise Florida, a supporter of the free trade agreements, has argued (.pdf):

  • “US exports to Colombia would grow by 13.7%, an increase of some US$1.1 billion over 2005 levels.”
  • “Due to implementation of the US-Colombia TPA, exports of Florida- origin goods to Colombia increase by the same percentage (13.7%) over 2010.”
  • “Using standard US Department of Commerce ‘rule of thumb’ estimates (11,000 US jobs per each additional US$1 billion in US exports of goods), the increased exports of Florida-origin goods to Colombia made possible by implementing this trade deal would annually support an additional 3,800 jobs in Florida. Meanwhile, Florida’s increased services exports to Colombia could sustain an additional 2,614 jobs all over the state. Therefore, in total the TPA is likely to result in the addition of over 6,400 jobs for Floridians.”

Andres Felipe Sanchez of the Colombian labor organization Escuela Nacional Sindical tells The Florida Independent that Colombian government officials, like those at the office of the agricultural ministry, have said the South American country is not ready for a free trade agreement due to a lack of infrastructure, even roads.

Sanchez agrees that “the Colombian government has taken positive steps to implement measures in a Labor Action Plan included in the U.S. Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” but with more than 2 million subcontracted workers via third parties, labor violations continue. Sanchez says that in the past, multinational companies have not respected the basic rights of Colombian workers.

A recent report issued by the Escuela Nacional Sindical states that overall the Action Plan has not “transformed labor policies” and so far has “had a minimal effect on the country’s labor relations.”

Another contentious issue related to the Colombian Free Trade agreement is the killing of Colombian union members. Sanchez tells the Independent that since 1986 violence against union members has claimed 2,908 lives. Since August 2010, when current President Juan Manuel Santos took office, at least 40 union members have been killed — 22 this year and 16 of those murders after April, when the Labor Action Plan was signed.

Sanchez says that “legislative measures will not transform anti-union violence in Colombia; this will not happen in six months.”

American opponents of the free trade agreements include organized labor, human rights advocates and research centers, which have pointed out that the free trade agreement model has meant a loss of U.S. jobs in the past.

The Economic Policy Institute writes that free trade agreements “have benefitted the world’s largest corporations at the expense of the average worker, and shown how the winners and losers of trade agreements line up not along national borders, but according to their economic status.”

The Policy Institute argues that the South Korean agreement “will increase the U.S. trade deficit with Korea by about $16.7 billion, and displace about 159,000 American jobs within the first seven years after it takes effect.”

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, issued the following statement last week following the vote that passed U.S. free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea:

Today has been five years in the making and could not come at a better time for American workers, consumers and businesses. The agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea will help create and support 250,000 American jobs and add over $10 billion to our gross domestic product – all without adding one dime in new government spending.

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