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Monday, April 21, 2008

General Confederation of Workers on FTA

(Translated by Thomas Kolar, a CSN volunteer translator)

The Colombia – United States Free Trade Treaty, A Trap For Our Country
          For the General Confederation of Workers, CGT, it is clear that as the Movement of Workers, its opposition to the Colombia – United States Accord For Promotion of Commerce, or TLC, as it is commonly known, cannot limit itself to the scenario merely of workers or unions, for that would be to take a reductionist position, limited and even selfish regarding the country, for even with a Labor Chapter that would improve the agreement as much as possible, we could not cease our opposition to the TLC. We know that the implications of the TLC extend much further touching all aspects of our national life and it is not limited to an accord that is merely commercial for the exchange of goods and services.
          Themes as delicate as food sovereignty, advanced technical education, technological and agricultural, access to medicines, industry in all its forms, and telecommunications, to cite only a few, these are now regulated by the dictates of our needs and customs, but they would also be governed by the norms of the TLC that are the rules of the transnational corporations and their interest of guaranteeing trade subject to the demands of their production.
          The Treaty of Free Trade with the United States is an exacerbation of the opening of the national economy to the strongest economic and military power in the world, that has similar commerce with its associates, with the great capacity to compete in an exclusive and unequal market. Colombia between January and November of 2007 saw its exports to the United States drop by 9.6% compared to the previous year. 70% of these exports are petroleum and its derivatives, 11% flowers, 9% in clothing, and the remaining 10% distributed among ceramics, plastics, aluminum, candies, and some minor others.
Further support for our rejection of the TLC is the fact that said treaty asks us to sell, while competing with 240 million consumers for our exports, even areas of intensively handicraft work, such as candies and shoes which have declined in U.S. exports by 23% and 18.8% respectively during the previous year. These declines are due to the competition of two Asian countries, China and India.
          Last year the balance of trade with the United States increased unfavorably for our country by 33.86%, this happened without the TLC and in spite of the special treatment under the ATPDEA (Andean Initiative).
          The increase in our Gross Domestic Product, with or without TLC, is not restrained, according to experts, during the last five years but calls to attention the fact that if the TLC goes into effect in 2009, the increase of the GDP would only receive a favorable impact of 0.5% and during following years its operations will fall back to the same levels at which the country would grow without signing the treacherous treaty.
          The Colombian government assumed the “negotiation” of the TLC without even taking into account our backward infrastructure, only superior to Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador. The 58% of our roads that are in bad shape, the 9% that are in terrible shape, the 22% in average condition, and only 11% that are in good shape. The 60% of the international merchant fleet with capacity above 40,000 tons, not able to utilize the port of Buenaventura, that is our principal port and only has the capacity to handle ships of equal or smaller loads.
          Passing time proves correct those who oppose signing the TLC with the United States, as shown by the example of Mexico, bordering on the Colossus of the North, that has seen how even with the implementation of such a treaty, poverty and unemployment have grown and the trade balance reveals growing dependency on the North American market, which indicates that in practice one should not sign the TLC without changes.
          The TLC, whose approval shows the lack of interest in the well-being of our country of the National Congress, was approved in two phases, the first version was revised and changed by the U.S. Congress and required to be submitted again and  approved by the Colombian Congress to ratify the modifications that the U.S. demanded.
Accordingly then, to the Constitutional Court to judge if the government and its majorities had acted under the constitutional principles of justice, reciprocity, equality, and the national sovereignty and interest in integration with Latin America and the Caribbean. It seems to us that none of the above has been respected and even the Procurator General of the nation has said that “it is difficult to have fairness between a superpower and a developing nation as one only has to consider the asymmetrical situation to see that they could not receive similar treatment and that principles of equality must be ignored.”
          On the other hand, one cannot continue to “blackmail” productive sectors of our economy, especially textiles, flowers, bananas, African palms, leather, etc. With the worn argument that not approving this treaty would cause work to disappear trying to convince them through fear of the advantages of the Treaty and speaking little of the effects of a true policy directed to encouraging and preserving national production that is protected from the contingencies that from time to time affect international commerce, moderating also the unhappiness of Colombian unions.
          It is because of all the preceding that the CGT reasserts its opposition to the TLC that is not limited to the theme of human rights and the reduction of the assassination of union leaders, more we reiterate the urgency of evaluating at its roots the negative effects of the economic opening imposed on our country since 1990 and what follows as a consequence, not only reduction of the rights of the working class, but the ruin of the countryside as a result of the growth of our productive apparatus but also the impoverishment of the population to absolutely unacceptable levels.
          It is necessary to consider that, besides all of the above, the country is not able to run the risk of seeing itself caught in a food crisis in the short term as has been occurring in countries such as Mexico, Mozambique, Morocco, Senegal, Yemen, Haiti, Philippines, Cameroon, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, among others, where hunger has claimed many victims. The TLC as proposed is a problem of security for our country.
          It is sad that we hope to put the TLC into operation at the urging of the U.S. government as part of  “national security” because Mr. Bush wishes to make Colombia play the role of a beachhead for the Department of State in Latin America just as it has used Israel in the Middle East.
          Based on all these considerations, the Executive Committee of the General Confederation of Workers, CGT, asks the President of the Republic , Dr. Alvaro Uribe Velez, his economic team, and the Congress of the Republic that it revise its absurd obsession with this TLC and, if in reality the government of the North is so interested in helping us, then it could extend the ancillary preferences of the ATPDEA for ten years while the Colombian economy adjusts and in the future perhaps we can negotiate a treaty that is just, balanced, and truly beneficial for both parties.
Bogota, April 11, 2008



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