Colombia has met labor protection obligations associated with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, the country’s labor minister said Tuesday.
The remarks were made by Labour Minister Rafael Pardo, during a four-day trip to the U.S., where he is reviewing the nine-month-old labor “action plan,” introduced to bring Colombian labour standards in to compliance with the FTA.
On the subject of trade unionists’ deaths, Pardo said, “We’re not saying that we are satisfied with a single death, no. None would be ideal. We hope to be zero at some point.”
Speaking after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Pardo added that figures regarding deaths have been exaggerated, with 30 murders of trade unionists occurring in 2011, not the 51 claimed by the unions, and two so far this year.
The minister insisted that the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, elected in 2010, fully investigated all killings.
Last week Colombian opposition senator Alexander Lopez Maya called for a postponement of the implementation of the FTA on the basis that the country had not fulfilled the action plan.
Lopez Maya said, “We have seen 58 trade unionists killed under the rule of Santos and all the Ministry of Labor does is defend the interests of business.”
“The Colombian government will try to hide what is going on [rather than] learn to speak the truth and fulfill the plan,” he added.
The FTA was originally signed in November 2006, but had never been implemented because of labor conditions in Colombia. A Labor Action Plan was introduced in April to encourage the Obama administration to send the agreement to the U.S. Congress for ratification, which was completed in October.
In the labor agreement, Colombia vowed to take measures against the threatening and killing of unionists, prosecute suspected murderers of labor rights activists and take measures to combat the exploitation of laborers.
The FTA is now in the hands of the U.S. Office for Foreign Trade, which must determine whether conditions exist to warrant bringing the agreement in to force.
Prado continues his visit Wednesday, when he will meet U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero.