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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Labor Issues

Mary Jane Bolle
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

This report examines three labor issues and arguments related to the pending proposed U.S.- Colombia free trade agreement (CFTA; H.R. 5724 and S. 2830): violence against trade unionists; impunity (accountability for or punishment of the perpetrators); and worker rights protections for Colombians. For general issues relating to the CFTA, see CRS Report RL34470, The Proposed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, by M. Angeles Villarreal. For background on Colombia and its political situation and context for the agreement, see CRS Report RL32250, Colombia: Issues for Congress, by June S. Beittel.

Opponents of the pending U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (CFTA) argue against it on three points: (1) the high rate of violence against trade unionists in Colombia; (2) the lack of adequate punishment for the perpetrators of that violence; and (3) weak Colombian enforcement of International Labor Organization (ILO) core labor standards and labor laws.

Proponents of the agreement argue primarily for the proposed Colombia FTA on the basis of economic and national security benefits. Accordingly, they argue, the CFTA would support increased exports, expand economic growth, create jobs, and open up investment opportunities for the United States. They also argue that it would reinforce the rule of law and spread values of capitalism in Colombia, and anchor hemispheric stability.

Proponents specifically respond to labor complaints of the opponents, that (1) violence against trade unionists has declined dramatically since former President Álvaro Uribe took office in 2002; (2) substantial progress is being made on the impunity issue as the government has undertaken great efforts to find perpetrators and bring them to justice; and (3) the Colombian government is taking steps to improve conditions for workers.

If Congress were to approve the Colombia FTA, it would be the second FTA (after Peru) to have some labor enforcement “teeth.” Labor provisions including the four basic ILO core labor standards would be enforceable through the same dispute settlement procedures as for all other provisions (i.e., primarily those for commercial interests.) Opponents argue that under CFTA, only the concepts of core labor standards, and not the details of the ILO conventions behind them, would be enforceable.

Proponents point to recent Colombian progress in protecting workers on many fronts. They argue that approval of the FTA and the economic growth in Colombia that would result is the best way to protect Colombia’s trade unionists. They also argue that not passing the agreement would not resolve Colombia’s labor issues. In addition, they argue, the United States could lose jobs through trade diversion as Colombia continues to enter into regional trade agreements with other countries.

Opponents argue that delaying approval of the proposed CFTA further would give Colombia more time to keep improving protections for its workers.

Date of Report: January 6, 2011
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL34759
Price: $29.95

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