U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement bad idea for both countries

In the coming days, the U.S. Congress will be debating a free-trade deal between the United States and Colombia. The agreement, if finalized, will have a negative impact on both countries.

It will not lead to job creation in the United States. Instead, it will cost U.S. jobs, as multinationals will relocate to Colombia in order to avoid paying higher wages here.

But Colombia will not benefit, either.

The elimination of trade barriers to entry of U.S. products will greatly harm Colombia’s working classes. It will decimate the market for a range of products created by peasants, indigenous communities and Afro-Colombians. This will result in an increased exodus from rural areas in a country that already leads the world in internally displaced people, with some 4.5 million displaced persons (nearly 10 percent of Colombia's 46 million population).

Several Colombian industries will be threatened by elimination of import duties. Products made by multinational businesses, which are the real potential beneficiaries of the free trade agreement, will hurt the domestic Colombian manufacturing sector.

And intellectual property provisions will threaten the access to medicinal herbs by members of Colombia's indigenous communities.

Then there’s the labor rights situation in Colombia, a highly dangerous country for trade unionists. Labor leaders in the country will continue to be murdered and threatened. The Obama administration has linked passage of the free trade agreement to greater protection of workers and has promised to attempt to curb employer-controlled “cooperatives” in Colombia, often used as a way to avoid unions. It is doubtful, though, that these proposed measures will show tangible results.

The U.S.-Colombia free trade deal is a bad idea for both nations.

John I. Laun is the president of the Colombia Support Network, and Cecilia Zarate-Laun is the co-founder and director of the organization. They can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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