On Sunday, April 15, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced that on May 15, 2012, American competitiveness would increase when the United States and Columbia Trade Agreement goes into effect.
However, once the key elements of the agreement Labor Action Plan and the U.S.–Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) were announced, the American Unions of AFL-CIO and President Richard Trumka along with the leaders of national labor organizations in Colombia stated publicly that they oppose it.
In April 2011, the U.S. and Colombia agreed to an Action Plan on Labor Rights intended to “protect internationally recognized labor rights, prevent violence against labor leaders, and prosecute the perpetrators of such violence” in Colombia. Although the Action Plan includes some measures that Colombian unions and the AFL-CIO have been demanding for years, its scope was too limited: it resolved neither the grave violations of union freedoms or human rights.
But according to Reuters, once the trade agreement goes into effect, over 80% of U.S. exports to Columbia (consumer and industrial products) will immediately become duty free. The remaining tariffs will be phased out within ten years, reducing duties on the U.S. exports entering into South America and eliminating pretty much all of the duties that Columbia imposed on U.S. agricultural and manufactured goods.
Even though there is strong opposition by U.S. allies within the U.S. labor movement against President Obama's decision, the U.S. business community feels it is a victory. Columbian authorities will now be able to improve protections for workers and union leaders because of the final obstacle for implementation of a free trade agreement.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the agreement will also increase commercial opportunities with Colombia's fast-growing economy. The pact eliminates duties on most exports, eases travel restrictions and strengthens intellectual property rights.
Strongly against it, the AFL-CIO blog states that the U.S. and Colombian union leaders feel that rather than moving to implement the FTA, leaders in both countries should move toward a new trade model that creates jobs, boosts economic development and increases standards of living in both countries.
Instead, we should add provisions to ensure stronger worker protections, a healthy environment, safe food and products, and the ability to regulate financial and other markets to avoid crises like that of 2008.