A House leader is urging Congress to delay approving a Colombian free trade agreement until there is recourse for Americans who lose their jobs as a result of increased free trade, and until the murders of Colombian trade unionists are resolved.
U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., says Congress needs to increase support for U.S. workers before any more trade agreements are approved, not just the deal with Colombia. “Congress should not consider any further trade deals until such time as there is a national support system in place that helps workers who lose their jobs, whether because of trade agreements, downturns in the economy or for other reasons beyond their control,” he said in a written statement released April 7, 2008. No such systems are currently in place, he adds.
Miller calls for a national system of education, job training, income support and health care for displaced workers. Citing the current crisis in the credit and financial markets, Miller says Congress “must first make sure that we have in place the mechanism to help our own workers and their families recover and move forward.”
In addition, with regards to the Colombia proposal, Miller again cites the country’s past and current history of violence against labor organizers and union members. “Congress should not consider this proposed trade agreement with Colombia until we are assured that Colombia has brought to justice those responsible for the attacks on union members in Colombia and until Colombia has successfully put an end to the impunity that has been enjoyed for years by those who have attacked and killed union members in Colombia,” he says.
On April 7, 2008, the U.S. State Department issued a statement outlining the case for the Colombian-U.S. trade pact. Officials say an agreement would:
• Result in significant benefits to the U.S. economy, including increasing U.S. annual exports to Colombia by more than $1.1 billion and boosting the number and type of goods that may be shipped to Columbia duty-free.
• Help the government of President Alvaro Uribe continue its progress in reducing the number of murders and terrorist attacks.
The State Department says the main threat to Colombia has been—and continues to be—from members of the drug trade and guerrilla groups, maintaining that “paramilitary groups” (which groups from outside Colombia identify as the most common source of attacks on union members) have largely been demobilized.
Dave Kittross is a freelance writer and editor based in Chevy Chase, Md., who has extensive experience writing about the federal government.
Chairman Miller Statement on President Bush's Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement
Submission to Congress of the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement
Anti-Union Violence in Columbia Keeps Workers from Joining, SHRM Online Global HR Focus Area, March 2008