WASHINGTON, DC — International aid organization Oxfam America called on Members of the US Congress to reject the free trade deal with Colombia as it will undermine development in Colombia and national security interests here at home.
Congress today formally received implementing legislation sent by President George W. Bush for the Free Trade Agreement, which Congress must now take up under ‘fast track’ rules that require an up-or-down vote within 90 legislative days.
“In a country plagued by armed conflict, reducing poverty in rural areas would be the best way to address our security concerns, but this trade deal will do just the opposite,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Although the deal is billed to help in the fight against drug trafficking, poor farmers who cannot compete with US exports to sell their food crops, such as corn and rice, will have few other options but to grow coca to survive.”
Poverty and inequality in rural areas has fueled Colombia’s armed conflict for more than four decades and led to an expansion of illicit coca cultivation. If passed, the Colombia trade deal will threaten the livelihoods of small and medium-scale farmers who produce food for the domestic market, deepening poverty and inequality among the country’s 12 million rural inhabitants. The trade deal forces Colombia to fully open its market to the US while providing substantially no new US market access for Colombia beyond that granted by the Andean trade preference program since 1991. Agriculture accounts for 22% of employment in Colombia, nearly twice the level of employment in the manufacturing industry, and in the country’s poorest regions most farmers who cultivate grains and livestock for local markets will be unable to compete with subsidized US exports.
In addition, the trade deal is no fix to the continued environment of intimidation and impunity in Colombia that limits the ability of human rights, labor and community leaders to effectively carry out their work. Just over the last month, a series of death threats from para-military groups together with public accusations by government officials have contributed to continued acts of violence against human rights defenders, including the murder of three trade unionists and two community leaders that remain in impunity.
“In the current context of intimidation, violence and impunity, the Colombia Free Trade Agreement could only make matters worse by increasing tensions that result from greater poverty and inequality,” said Offenheiser. “Trade can only be an engine for poverty reduction if trade rules bring benefits to vulnerable populations, but the Colombia Free Trade Agreement fails this test.”
Oxfam called on the US Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement as it would undermine development and poverty reduction, adversely affecting women, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in particular. Instead, the US needs a new trade policy that will expand economic opportunity for poor people in developing countries as well as for the middle class here at home. Such a policy would involve completing a multilateral trade deal with rules to adequately address the disparities in levels of development among countries, as well as extending existing trade preference programs to include all the world’s poorest countries.
"Developing countries like Colombia need to have available a range of policy tools to foment development and poverty reduction, such as effective import safeguards and investment regulations, but these are prohibited by the FTA," said Offenheiser. “Congress should instead continue trade relations with Colombia by extending the Andean trade preference program to encourage export diversification that can benefit the poor, while passing important domestic policies to address the economic insecurity that much of the population is facing here at home.”