New Low for Obama on Colombia Worker Rights; Throws Away Trade Leverage at Summit

President Obama is planning to give a thumbs up on the Colombian government’s efforts to address worker rights violations, violence and impunity and announce this week that the U.S. will implement the Free Trade Agreement passed by the U.S. Congress in October 2011, thereby surrendering its opportunity to secure significant advances on worker rights, violence and impunity in the world’s most dangerous country in which to be a trade unionist. 

April 17 Update: President Obama gave the thumbs up on worker rights in Colombia; the Free Trade Agreement is now cleared to go into effect, May 15, 2012.  The announcement has been strongly denounced by the AFL-CIO and Steelworkers and opposed by key members of Congress, including Rep. James McGovern, D-MA.

Colombian and U.S. unions and NGOs have vigorously rejected the Administration’s rosy view of adequate progress on worker rights.   The AFL-CIO and SEIU have both objected to the Administration’s plans to move forward; Steelworker President Leo Gerard joined in with a thought-provoking blog.  The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) circulated an April 3, 2012 letter signed by a dozen Colombian unions arguing that much more progress remains to be made. 

Shortly before Congress voted on the controversial agreement, the President promised he would not implement the agreement until Colombia met key elements of a Labor Action Plan signed by both governments in 2011.  USLEAP signed on to an April 10, 2012 letter organized by WOLA, the Latin America Working Group, the U.S. Office on Colombia, and the Center for International Policy declaring that “key elements of the Labor Action Plan remain unfulfilled.”  The letter concludes that,  “The labor and human rights situation in Colombia has not improved sufficiently to implement the Free Trade Agreement.”

In “Obama Poised To Give Presidential Seal of Approval To Gross Labor Rights Violations in Colombia,” WOLA provides further details on the Colombian government’s shortcomings on worker rights and the Labor Action Plan.

Five members of the House of Representatives Colombia Monitoring Group, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Rosa Delaura (D-CT), Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA)diplomatically signaled their dissatisfaction with the Colombian government's compliance with the Labor Action Plan in an April 10, 2012 letter to Labor Minister Rafael Pardo.  After praising the government for steps it has taken, the letter asks a series of pointed questions about emblematic cases (e.g. Pacific Rubiales) and overarching issues (e.g. impunity) that highlight specific problems as well as the failure of the Colombian government to provide recent evidence of compliance on key issues like impunity.

Once the Obama Administration allows the FTA to “enter into force,” U.S. leverage to secure significant advances on worker rights in Colombia will drop dramatically.  Trade leverage will default to the labor provisions contained in the agreement itself.  While these labor provisions represent an improvement over those in the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), they are a far weaker source of leverage than delaying the agreement itself. 

The President’s announcement is expected to be made at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas meeting in Colombia.

Trans-Pacific Partnership National Briefing, April 13

Coupled with a big push on Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations for the biggest U.S. trade agreement in over 20 years, the move to implement the Colombia trade agreement continues the Administration’s extension of big business’s free trade and investment agenda, subjugating respect for worker rights and a level playing field for workers in the global economy to the relentless push by big business to make “free” trade and investment easier for companies.

Activists concerned about the TPP negotiations, which have been shrouded in secrecy, can participate in a national briefing call set for Friday, April 13, 1 pm Eastern time with the AFL-CIO, Global Trade Watch and others.  To receive the call-in number, please RSVP online at:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dGdYQlhNbkFqZ2hxZEV...