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Washington, DC — As Congress considers the free trade agreement with Colombia, international relief and development organization Oxfam America warned that the deal is likely to exacerbate poverty in rural areas, which will in turn undermine counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency efforts in the South American country.
“Proponents claim the trade deal would immediately eliminate existing tariffs on 70% of agriculture trade between the two countries, but don’t spend a second considering the effects this will have on Colombia’s small farmers, who produce over half the food consumed in the country,” said Stephanie Burgos, senior policy advisor for Oxfam America. ”If small-scale farmers can no longer compete with heavily subsidized US exports under the FTA, they will have little choice but to turn to illicit crops.”
Poverty and inequality in rural areas have fueled Colombia’s social and armed conflict as well as the illegal economy. The US has invested $8 billion over the last decade in counter-narcotics, counter-insurgency and alternative development efforts. The United Nations Development Program just released a human development report on Colombia, a two-year study that points to increasing rural inequality and high concentration of land ownership. The report also highlights the critical importance of addressing the needs of small farmers, who are key for the country’s long-term development, yet for decades have been neglected by effective policies and programs.
“Small scale farmers in my country, especially women, have faced enormous challenges and this trade deal is only going to make things worse for us,” said Nelly Antonia Velandia Avendano, a women’s farmer leader from the Boyacá province in Colombia who had to abandon her farm because of death threats. “This trade deal not only imposes unfair competition with subsidized American crops, but it also installs an agricultural system that will drive out small holder farmers like me and my neighbors.”