Sept. 7, 2005 – Barely a month after Congress bypassed labor and environmentalists concerns to pass a free-trade agreement with several Central American nations, a proposal to expand tariff-free-trade zones among the Americas appears headed for ratification, prompting a new round of criticisms and concerns from a handful of human rights and international labor organizations.
The US-Andean Free Trade Agreement would further link the economies of the United States, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. While proponents of free trade say such agreements help facilitate commerce between nations to the benefit of all involved, opponents of free-trade pacts have pointed to the devastating affects such treaties have had on the working people and environments of participating countries.
By breaking down trade barriers between countries, such agreements allow corporations to move more easily between work forces, seeking nations with fewer labor and environmental regulations. The agreements also make it more difficult for governments to protect new industries, control prices or enact other laws to manage their economies.
Human rights organizations are working to codify workersâ€™ rights into the agreement in an effort to mitigate some of these affects. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to United States Trade Representative Robert Portman demanding that the US accept a provision in the agreement barring workplace discrimination. The other parties to the pact have already approved of the measure, which calls on treaty partners to enact and enforce strong laws against workplace discrimination.
The three South American nations have poor labor rights records, according to a number of government, human rights and labor rights reports. In Columbia alone, 1,925 union leaders were murdered between 1991 and 2002, an ongoing study by the International Labor Rights Fund found.
In the letter to Portman, Human Rights Watch noted that the proposal marked an important development for all three Andean nations.
The US has been negotiating with the three nations for a little over two years, with Bolivia acting as an observer. In a statement supporting the measure, the US Chamber of Commerce notes that the three nations represent over 100 million potential customers and around $500 billion in possible trade.