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European unions demand immediate halt to trade negotiations with Colombia

Citing Canadian and American delays to ratifying free trade agreements with Colombia, a coalition of European trade unions is demanding that the EU Commission immediately halt its own negotiations with the Uribe government. The Trade Unions Congress, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, London-based Justice for Colombia, Unite the Union and Workers Uniting have released a report, “Trading Away Human Rights: Why the EU-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a Step in the Wrong Direction,” which asks the Commission not to put Europe out of step with the international consensus on Colombia’s human rights situation. The report also highlights that, as in Canada, the economic benefits to free trade with Colombia would be so marginal as to make the agreement pointless, more proof that the main goal is political — to effectively endorse a criminal regime in order to keep a toehold of influence on a South American continent increasingly hostile to European and North American trade ambitions.

The report concludes:

The human rights situation in Colombia remains critical with many types of abuses, including murders of trade unionists, increasing in recent years. The response of the Colombian authorities to the situation has been inadequate and there is strong evidence that they have attempted to mislead the international community as to the severity of the situation.

Furthermore, it is clear that Colombia is still failing to live up to its international obligations and that it has not ‘effectively implemented’ the recommendations made to it by either the UN High Commission for Human Rights or the International Labor Organisation. More worryingly, senior government offi cials continue to put lives at risk by making unfounded accusations against those who speak out about the violations of human and workers’ rights.

This situation is unlikely to change until international pressure on the regime is stepped up. It is encouraging that Canada, Norway (EFTA) and the United States have all withheld ratifi cation of their own Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, citing human rights concerns.

The European Union should immediately suspend its Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Colombia. This would send a strong message that Europe is not willing to reward those who show such brazen disregard for fundamental human and workers’ rights. To push ahead with the Agreement would destroy the international consensus on this issue, ignore the concerns of Colombian civil society organisations and make a mockery of the very rights that the EU claims to champion.