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US-Colombia Free Trade Deal a Step Back for Development

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International aid organization Oxfam criticized the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed in Washington today, an agreement it says will harm thousands of vulnerable small farmers, restrict access to affordable medicines and favor foreign investors over domestic development needs.

According to Oxfam, the agreement includes strict new intellectual property rules that would extend corporate monopoly rights and dangerously hinder Colombians' access to important life-saving drugs. Colombia’s health insurance system today falls short of providing adequate access to medicines, with 20 million Colombians unable to afford the medicines they need. If this FTA is implemented, Colombia's health care system would be forced to spend an additional $900 million a year to cover the increased cost of medicines by year 2020, leaving it unable to meet existing coverage, much less expand it.

"Agreements between trading partners should offer economic opportunity and development, not the demise of a poor country's public health system," said Stephanie Burgos, trade policy advisor for Oxfam. “Unfortunately, this agreement locks in unfair trade rules that pull the rug from underneath Colombia’s poor.”

The agreement will also expose Colombia’s farmers to unfair dumping of agricultural products, forcing them to compete with subsidized exports from the United States. This could spell economic disaster for the millions of people in Colombia who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, according to the organization.

"This free trade deal will pry open Colombia's market without consideration of the damaging effects of dumped, cheap, subsidized American products,” said Burgos. “Poor farmers need viable alternatives to growing coca, but US dumping of rice and corn could undermine their livelihoods and leave them with no other option.”

The FTA will have to be approved by Congress in both the US and Colombia, but opposition has been mounting, including in the US Congress. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-CA) is traveling to Colombia next week to meet with civil society organizations and Colombian legislators to discuss the possible negative consequences of the trade deal.

"The Colombia FTA is a bad deal for American and Colombian working families," said Congresswoman Sánchez, "This deal will gut Colombia's farming industry and continue this Administration's practice of exporting American manufacturing jobs."

Oxfam called on the US Congress to reject the Colombia FTA and others like it, and focus its energies on extending current trade preference legislation instead. This includes the Andean Trade Preferences Act, which provides duty-free access to the US market for specific products from designated developing countries such as Colombia. Current programs are set to expire at the end of the year but Congress will consider renewing those preferences after it returns on December 4th.

"The US Congress should put a stop to free trade agreements like the one with Colombia because they threaten development priorities in poor countries," said Burgos. "The US Congress should instead encourage developing countries to utilize trade as a means of achieving sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction by extending and strengthening existing trade preference programs.”

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