Group Petitioning Against Colombia Free Trade Agreement

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News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Mar. 18, 2011: The Latin America Working Group is amassing signatures to stop approval of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

The group has taken to Face book with its campaign to what they say is an “unfair agreement” from moving forward.

“President Obama must not consider it until there are major improvements in human rights and labor conditions in Colombia,” the group states in its petition which has so far secured 7,068 signatures.

The group’s push comes as President Obama is set to begin his tour of Latin America today. He is not expected to visit Colombia though the issue of the free trade is being push by several Republican lawmakers.

Even Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, weighed in Thursday, sending off a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to backing “Colombia and Panama in their efforts to perceive United States passage of trade agreements with these two countries.”

In his letter, Secretary General Insulza says that the North American Free Trade Agreement (United States, Canada and Mexico) “opened a new era in hemispheric relations,” and that from this perspective the organization he represents has, systematically, “supported multilateral and bilateral agreements of this kind, all over the Americas.”

The trade agreements of the United States with Colombia and Panama, he added “would benefit all three countries.”

But the Latin America Working Group disagrees, insisting: “A fair and humane trade agreement cannot be implemented in an environment in which union leaders are assassinated, the land rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and small-scale farmers are consistently undermined, and millions of people have been violently robbed of their homes.”

They say Colombia is still the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist as Colombian labor law doesn’t respect even minimum international labor standards, and the laws that are in place are not effectively enforced.

The House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade yesterday held a hearing on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the first in a series of three hearings on pending trade agreements. Ambassador Miriam Sapiro from the Office of the Trade Representative and Robert D. Hormats, under secretary for economic, energy and agricultural affairs from the U.S. Department of State, provided testimony.

Both answered questions regarding a timeline for sending to Congress the agreement with Colombia and the pending agreements with Korea and Panama, as well as the work being done in Colombia regarding labor and violence issues.

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