MADRE Articles

The US-Colombia Unfair Trade Agreement Revisited: Just Say No!

Posted on: Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Keywords: Colombia, Free Trade, South America, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Human Rights Advocacy

Today, Congress is preparing to vote on a Free Trade Agreement with Colombia that was signed—but not ratified— in 2006 by then-Presidents George W. Bush and Alvaro Uribe.  Today’s passage of the agreement would end almost five years of negotiations regarding the bill. For five years, human rights advocates have struggled to reveal what the FTA would mean for labor rights, for environmental preservation, for public health, for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and more.

With today’s vote on the Colombia FTA, as well as on similar agreements for South Korea and Panama, this issue is moving off of the congressional backburner. We need to mobilize again to stop it in its tracks.

Since 2006, MADRE has joined human rights advocates worldwide to oppose the agreement on the Colombia FTA. Today, the policy will be revisited under a new US Administration, but the myriad human rights violations this FTA threatens are still present. These include violence against labor organizers and human rights activists, combined with staggering rates of impunity.

Let’s remember what a vote for the Colombia FTA means:

1. Worsening Rural Poverty and Hunger

The FTA cuts tariffs on food imported from the US but benefits only the few Colombian farmers who export to the US. Moreover, the deal bars the Colombian government from subsidizing farmers, while large-scale US corn and rice growers enjoy billions in subsidies. These double standards guarantee that US agribusiness can undersell Colombian farmers, who will face bankruptcy as a result. Many of Colombia's small-holder farmers are women and Indigenous Peoples who are losing their livelihoods and being forced off their lands.

2. Fueling Armed Conflict and Drug Trafficking

The intertwined crises of poverty, landlessness and inequality are at the root of Colombia's decades-long armed conflict. The FTA will further concentrate wealth in the hands of a few while worsening poverty for millions of people. Recent history in comparable settings tells that many Colombian farmers, whose livelihoods will be destroyed by the FTA, will be compelled to cultivate coca (the raw material for producing cocaine) to earn a living.
Continuing a trend begun in the wake of 9-11, the US has cast the FTA as a matter of its "national security," and the Colombian government has followed suit by treating anyone opposed to the deal as a terrorist. Colombia's workers, Afro-Colombians and Indigenous Peoples have taken a clear position against the FTA. Their peaceful protests have been met with severe repression, including murder.

3. Repressing Labor Rights

Colombia is already the world's deadliest country for trade unionists, with more than 2,800 labor activists killed since 1986. The FTA does not require Colombia to meet international core labor standards; it merely calls on the government to abide by its own weak labor laws. Without enforceable labor protections, the trade deal will put more workers at risk. US workers' power to negotiate better wages will also be weakened by a deal that allows corporations operating in Colombia to keep labor costs down through violence.

4. Exacerbating Climate Change and Threatening Biodiversity

The FTA will increase logging in the Colombian Amazon, weakening the rainforest's capacity to stabilize the Earth's climate. Under provisions sought by the US, corporations that have bought the rights to a country’s forests, fishing waters, mineral deposits or oil reserves that can totally deplete these resources, with grave consequences to ecosystems and the many species that inhabit them. Small-scale farmers and Indigenous Peoples who depend directly on these natural resources will be the first people to suffer.

5. Subordinating National Sovereignty to Corporations

By allowing corporations to sue governments for passing laws that could reduce profits, the FTA erodes Colombia's prerogative to regulate foreign investment and undermines citizens' chances of improving health, safety and environmental laws. In anticipation of the FTA, the US pressed Colombia to pass a law that would expropriate land from Indigenous and Afro-Colombians and allow multinational corporations to gain control of millions of hectares of rainforest. The forestry law was part of a series of constitutional "reforms" undertaken to meet the conditions of a US trade agreement. In January 2008, Colombian civil society won an important victory: the forestry law was struck down as a violation of Indigenous rights. Had the FTA already been in place, US corporations would now be allowed to sue the Colombian government for "lost future profits."

6. Deteriorating Public Health

By extending patent rights on medicines produced in the US, the FTA hinders the use of far cheaper generic drugs and puts life-saving medicines out of reach for millions of Colombians. Women, who are over-represented among the poor and primarily responsible for caring for sick family members, are particularly harmed by this provision.

7. Loss of Vital Public Services

The FTA requires the Colombian government to sell off critical public services, including water, healthcare and education. Elsewhere in Latin America, this kind of privatization has resulted in sharp rate increases by new corporate owners that deny millions of people access to essential services. Women are hardest hit because it is most often their responsibility to meet their families' needs for such basic services.

8. Harming Indigenous Women

The FTA would enable corporations to exploit Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge by allowing companies to patent seeds, plants, animals and certain medical procedures developed and used by Indigenous women over centuries. Under the FTA, Indigenous women could lose access to important medicinal plants and agricultural seeds unless they pay royalties to patent holders. Indigenous women’s role as the protectors of their community’s natural resources and traditional knowledge would be eroded, threatening Indigenous cultures and women’s status within the community.

You can make sure that this doesn’t happen. Our friends at the Latin America Working Group are asking you to take action today: Ask Your Members of Congress to Vote NO on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

 


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