Colombia’s social protection minister has met with members of the European Parliament to explain his country’s advances in human rights issues as it pertains to the pending free trade agreement between Colombia and the E.U., newspaper El Espectador reported Tuesday.
The goals of the visit were “to make the Colombian government’s policies known and advance the bilateral agenda,” Minister Mauricio Santamaria said.
Santamaria highlighted his country’s progress in generating employment, advancing laws that prohibit the hiring of people who do not respect labor rights, and making it a criminal offense for businesses to interfere with the free association of individuals.
He also stressed that “the number of attacks on trade unionists are the lowest in history,” and that the government has increased sentences for those who attack the workers’ representatives.
Santamaria reported “a very open atmosphere for discussion” at the meeting in Strasbourg, France, where he met with various liberal and conservative members of parliament including the European Commissioner for Employment, Laszlo Andor.
Finally, the Colombian minister expressed his hope that the FTA would be swiftly passed by the European Parliament.
The final draft of the trade agreement was signed by both parties on March 25, but a further process of translation and official approval will have to take place before it can go into effect.
The FTA includes provisions guaranteeing the possibility to suspend the agreement unilaterally if either party fails to respect human rights, but some members of the European Parliament have still expressed their doubts on labor rights practices in Colombia.
“One can always have the expectation that more can be done,” said Santamaria, adding, “if we want to improve social aspects it is important to respect human rights.”