The U.S. Colombia free trade agreement was supported by two senators but opposed by a labor unionist at the United States Senate Committee on Finance Wednesday.
At the hearing, the free trade agreement, officially called the U.S. Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, was supported by two senators and members of the senate committee while the deputy director of AFL-CIO, the largest labor union federation in the U.S., raised serious concerns regarding labor rights in the Latin American country, according to statements released by the committee.
Max Baucus Democratic Senator for Montana and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee argued that the two nations are neighbors, friends, partners and allies, and that their economies should complement each other instead of compete.
He finalized his speech by saying “Let us work together to implement the Labor Action Plan. Let us move forward quickly and approve the free trade agreement.”
The Action Plan Baucus referred to was signed on April 7 and commits Colombia to protecting the rights and safety of current and former trade unionists.
Orrin Hatch Republican Senator for Utah and member of the Senate Finance Committee said that the free trade agreement would be mutually beneficial. He also said that the free trade agreement is of geo-political importance as the Andean nation lies between Ecuador and Venezuela, two countries which are pursuing “radical models of economic development not based on free market principles.” Hatch summarized by saying that the free trade agreement would help Colombia to be a more prosperous, stable and democratic country.
In contrast, Jeff Vogt, deputy director international affairs of the AFL-CIO, said Colombia has a poor track record of violence against trade unionists and that the perpetrators of this violence can act with impunity.
Vogt said “Anti-union violence remains at alarming levels.” He acknowledged that the Santos Administration is more conducive to the protection of labor rights than that of Uribe but raised concerns that the Action Plan is not part of the trade promotion agreement and therefore is not subject to the same dispute settlement mechanisms if Colombia fails to comply.
The senate committee also heard witness testimonies from Miriam Sapiro, deputy U.S. trade representative, Gordon Stoner, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, Sandra Polanski, deputy under secretary for international labor relations, and retired Army General General James T. Hill, who was responsible for U.S. military activity in South and Central America.