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Monday, January 21, 2008

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Parliament of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K1A 0A9

Dear Members of Parliament,

For almost two decades, the United States and Canada have been closely
linked economically, first through the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement,
and later the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now, our respective
governments are negotiating trade agreements with many of the same
countries. These agreements will no doubt have an impact on both our
respective economies and on our unique bilateral relationship. It is in
this light that we would very much like to open a continuing dialogue
with you about our respective trade policies and exchange views about
the kind of policies needed to promote broadly shared benefits for the
people of the United States, of Canada, and of our trading partners.

Last year, the United States concluded negotiations and signed a
bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia. Even though the White
House has not yet submitted the agreement to Congress for consideration,
it has already generated considerable controversy and debate. While we
support trade with Colombia, we have very serious concerns about
deepening and making permanent that economic relationship at this time
and with this agreement. First, we are disturbed by the human rights
situation in the country, and the fact that many of these horrific
crimes are committed with impunity. The ongoing repression of workers is
of particular concern and is an issue that no labor chapter in a trade
agreement will fix. Second, we simply do not believe that the trade
agreement will foster the broad-based economic development needed in
Colombia or that it will generate substantial economic opportunities at

It is our understanding that Canada is close to or has concluded
negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement with Peru, Colombia and
South Korea. We understand that these agreements are similar in many
respects to our own. We would like to share some of our concerns
regarding the U.S-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. These concerns, we
believe, are equally applicable to the Canada-Colombia FTA.

    * Labor: Colombia continues to lead the world in the number of
murdered trade unionists. In 2007 alone, thirty eight labor activists
were murdered. . Of the 2,262 labor activists murdered between 1991 and
2006, almost 400 were killed during the Uribe Administration. And these
murders are committed with impunity - 97% remain unsolved. The ILO has
also repeatedly criticized both the failure of Colombia to adopt laws
consistent with the core labor standards and to enforce what domestic
labor laws it does have. The combined result has been a steep decline in
union density in the country.

    * Corruption: Several members of Congress and high-ranking officials
closely allied with President Alvaro Uribe have been arrested or are
under investigation for their links with paramilitaries. In Colombia,
paramilitary organizations have been linked to egregious human rights
violations, including massacres and narcotrafficking. In October 2007,
Mario Uribe, a cousin of President Alvaro Uribe, resigned from the
Senate to avoid an inquiry by the Supreme Court into his alleged ties to
paramilitaries. The government has already proposed a plan to release
these politicians with little or no sanction whatsoever.

    * Demobilization: The government has taken some steps to dismantle
the paramilitary structures in Colombia. However, the flawed process has
contributed to thousands of former paramilitary members never truly
demobilizing and has led to the creation of new and dangerous criminal
organizations. Recent reports from the Organization of American States
have noted the resurgence of new paramilitary groups.
    * These groups are found throughout the country and, while assuming
distinct organizational frameworks, many of them continue the legacy of
the paramilitaries, including narcotics trafficking, death threats, and

    * Extra-judicial executions: Murders committed by state actors
remain a very serious and under-reported problem. The Washington Office
on Latin America recently reported that human rights groups in Colombia
have collected detailed information on a total of 577 cases of
extrajudicial execution between July 1997 and June 2002. The same
organizations detailed 955 cases over the last five years, an increase
in executions of nearly 66%. From July 2006 to June 2007, extra-judicial
executions have taken place in nearly all of Colombia's departments.

Additionally, we have concerns about the impact of certain chapters of
the U.S.-Colombia FTA. Of particular concern are the chapters on:
services, investment, procurement, intellectual property and agriculture.

We believe that no trade agreement with Colombia is acceptable at this
time. We have also learned that many Colombians, including
representatives of organized labor, indigenous and afro-Colombian
communities, small farmers, and religious leaders strongly oppose this
agreement. We urge you to consider these important issues, which no
doubt will also arise in the debate over the Canada-Colombia FTA. We
welcome any opportunity to commence a more detailed discussion on this
agreement and on trade policy generally.

Michael H. Michaud
Betty Sutton
Phil Hare
Linda Sánchez
Nancy Boyda
Keith Ellison
Marcy Kaptur
Members of Congress

Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org



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