Labor, Human Rights Groups Skeptical Of New Free Trade Agreements

With Tuesday’s passage of free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, most Americans were too busy reeling from the shock that Congress could actually give bipartisan support for anything to critically evaluate the possible implications of the FTAs.

But some groups worry that the free trade agreements will have dire consequences for already marginalized peoples. The Washington Office On Latin America, a human rights group based in D.C., said the U.S.-Colombia FTA could hurt poorer people in an already tumultuous economic climate. Executive Director Joy Olson released a statement preceding the vote:

“With every trade agreement there are winners and losers. WOLA opposed this agreement because the experience with similar agreements has taught us who the losers will be, those least able to bear the cost: small agricultural producers, including Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, many of them already at risk because of Colombia’s ongoing armed conflict. Furthermore, while there has been much attention on labor rights issues in the lead up to this vote, past experience also tells us that once the agreement is signed no one pays attention to what happens to the workers. Let’s be honest, this agreement will devastate some people who are already poor. If approved, supporters of this agreement can’t just say hooray and move on. They will have to deal with the consequences of this vote in Colombia, including continued labor violations and assassinations, people moving into the illicit drug trade, greater internal displacement, and out-migration.”

Additionally, protesters and the Democratic Party in South Korea have called for more provisions in the agreement that would prevent “the U.S. abusing the system.” Demonstrators have been rallying against the new FTA in front of the Seoul City Hall in recent days, concerned that the agreement will hurt South Korean workers.

The official reaction from politicians in South Korea, Colombia, and Panama was favorable toward the FTAs, but labor activists in these three countries worry that they are opening themselves up to new economic struggles by allowing more competition with the United States.

Although U.S. politicians are congratulating themselves on passing these FTAs after a years-long process, Americans should seriously consider how these policies will impact both domestic and foreign economies.


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