As expected, the US approved the implementation date for the recently-passed Colombia Free Trade Agreement, despite continued violence against trade unionists in the country. The announcement timed with President Obama’s appearance at the Summit of the Americas.
“Colombia has passed those laws and regulations necessary in order for the free-trade agreement to enter into force,” said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. “This is a significant milestone.” [...]
In order to complete the agreement, the Colombians were required to pass several pieces of legislation, and lawmakers were scrambling to do so in order to announce the agreement while U.S. President Barack Obama was here for the summit. Colombia also had to take certain steps to protect workers’ rights and guard against violence toward labor-union leaders. U.S. officials said those conditions had been met.
As recently as three weeks ago, Colombian union leaders criticized continued violence against their members, and impunity for the attackers. Thirty trade unionists were killed last year, and four so far this year, according to Colombia’s National Union School. While 51 were killed in 2010, this kinder, gentler campaign of murder is cold comfort to the labor movement in the country.
A Human Rights Watch report from last October showed “virtually no progress” on prosecutions for past crimes against trade unionists.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered a harsh condemnation of the decision to move forward on the trade agreement in a statement:
Today’s announcement that Colombia has successfully implemented key elements of the Labor Action Plan and that the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement will enter into force on May 15th is deeply disappointing and troubling. It signals to average Colombians that their struggles are not our struggles. Rather than insisting that the Colombian Government honor its promises to Colombia’s working class, our government signaled with today’s decision that a little improvement is good enough. If a little improvement were good enough, women might still be fighting for the right to vote, and our workplaces would be filled with children. Premature certification of the Labor Action Plan undermines the early signs of progress that have been achieved for Colombian workers – and could prevent further progress.
Rather than moving to prematurely implement the U.S.-Colombia FTA, President Obama today should have signaled that he stands shoulder to shoulder with the working people of Colombia and the U.S. and will continue to fight for their right to improve their working conditions and standards of living. On behalf of the working families of both nations, the AFL-CIO, CUT, and CTC strongly oppose today’s announcement and urge our governments to redouble their efforts to ensure that Colombian workers can organize to improve their lives in a climate of respect for their fundamental rights, without fear for their own safety or that of their families. We regret that the Administration has placed commercial interests above the interests of workers and their trade unions.
This was baked into the cake when Congress passed and the President signed the FTA last year. But it does show that the fig leaf of “labor protections” had virtually nothing to do with the agreement. The state of affairs in Colombia for union organizers is basically the same as it was before the trade agreement, but still it will move to implementation.