Obama Certifies Colombia Labor Plan, Clearing Trade Pact
President Barack Obama has approved Colombia’s fulfillment of terms protecting its workers, allowing both sides to proceed with putting the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement into effect, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said.
The agreement provides “an opportunity to help stand up for the rights of workers” worldwide, Kirk told reporters in a conference call at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The trade accord will take effect May 15, he said.
Obama took steps to certify Colombia’s labor-protection efforts, Kirk said. The president was set to hold bilateral talks with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos later today as the summit of more than 30 nations was drawing to a close.
The two leaders planned to discuss it at a news conference scheduled at 4:35 p.m. Washington time.
The trade deal, approved in the U.S. in October, will add as much as $1.1 billion to U.S. exports when it takes full effect, according to estimates from the U.S. International Trade Commission.
The U.S. exported $14.3 billion in goods to Colombia last year and imported $23.1 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. (GE) are among the biggest supporters of the trade deal.
Kirk said that under the labor certification, Colombia will establish a new labor ministry, give workers the right to organize, prosecute past cases of violence against union organizations and provide protections for them, Kirk said.
The U.S. will offer Colombia “technical assistance” as it implements the labor protection rules, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on a conference call.
“This is a work in progress” but “we are moving on the right track,” Solis said.
Colombia’s Congress passed bills to implement a free-trade accord on April 10, days before the Summit of the Americas began.
The free-trade agreement, first reached under President George W. Bush more than five years ago, stalled in Congress amid opposition from House Democrats. Obama worked to broaden support by securing stronger labor commitments from Colombia.
Colombia agreed to completion a “labor action plan,” a side agreement signed in April 2011 between the U.S. and Colombia, before the accord could be implemented.
Obama’s approval hinged on Colombia taking further steps to protect workers’ rights and making progress on reducing the killing of union workers by terrorists.
Under terms of the plan, Colombia agreed to take steps to prevent exploitation of workers, prosecuting those suspected of violating workers’ rights and ensure the safety of trade unionists, long a target of violence by illegal armed groups.
In February, the U.S. said Colombia was working to meet its commitments. A month ago, Obama and Santos conferred by telephone on the subject. The U.S. president “underscored the importance of continued progress” on meeting terms of the labor plan, the White House said in a statement.
Obama’s announcement today means the U.S. concerns are satisfied.
The AFL-CIO labor federation remained opposed to the Colombia FTA and said its “entry into force” should be delayed until Colombia takes what it called “sustained, meaningful and measurable action to change the culture of violence” that the Washington-based AFL-CIO said undermines labor and human rights in Colombia.
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