Jill Stein, the leading contender for the Green Party presidential nomination, today condemned President Obama's approval on Sunday of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
"President Obama called it a win-win. No, it's a lose-lose for workers," Stein said. "It's a deadly assault on the freedom of Colombian workers to organize, as well as on the freedom of American workers from unfair competition from workers who make poverty wages because they are violently repressed."
Stein noted that the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center reports that 4,000 Colombian trade unionists have been murdered in the last 20 years. In only a tiny number cases have the murderers been prosecuted.
"The killings of union organizers have not stopped," Stein said. "In 2011, 51 union organizers were murdered, according to the National School of Labor, a Colombian trade union. Four more have been killed so far this year."
Obama made his announcement at a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as they concluded the Summit of Americas in the Colombian resort city of Cartagena.
The trade agreement now goes into effect May 15. It passed Congress and was signed by the President last October. However, its implementation was contingent on the administration's certification of Colombia's labor protection efforts.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Sunday that Colombia was implementing a "labor action plan" to enforce homicide laws against the killers of union organizers and laws that allow workers to organize.
"Let's first see the murders stopped, the death squads prosecuted and convicted, the unions organized, and decent union contracts signed with the companies. Then we can talk about reducing trade barriers with Colombia," Stein said.
The trade pact makes more than 80 percent of industrial and manufactured products exported from the U.S. and from Colombia duty free. More than half of U.S. agriculture exports to Colombia will also become duty free.
"This trade pact is a jobs export pact," Stein said. "Manufacturing jobs are going to flow from the U.S. to Colombia, where violence and intimidation against trade unionists makes the labor cheap."
Stein also criticized the impact of expanded U.S. agricultural exports on Colombian farmers and workers.
'The U.S. agricultural exports are not so-called free trade but subsidized trade. Many of them receive federal agribusiness subsidies. They will flood Colombian markets, displace Colombian farmers, reduce Colombia's food self reliance, and push farmers and farmworkers into the manufacturing labor market to further lower wages there. The trade deal is job killer for American workers and a wage depressor for Colombian workers," Stein said.
"We get called protectionists for opposing these pro-corporate trade deals," Stein added. "Yes, I am for protecting people and planet. I support trade governed by rules designed to level-up labor and environmental standards to a high common level instead creating a race to the bottom. We need real free trade between free peoples in free markets. This trade deal favors the giant manufacturing oligopolies and subsidized agribusinesses at the expense of workers in both countries."
The U.S. labor movement opposed the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The AP reported Sunday that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Obama was putting "commercial interests above the interests of workers and their trade unions" by certifying the Colombian labor plan.
Dan Kovalik, a lawyer with the United Steelworkers, said Obama's announcement was "premature in light of the continued violence against unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia," according to the AP.
The United Steelworkers of America was a plaintiff in two lawsuits against Coca-Cola on behalf of a sister Colombian trade union. The lawsuits charged that Coca-Cola bottlers, "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."
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