Industry Group Urges Congress to Move on Colombia Trade Agreement Citing Countrys Clear Progress on Labor Rights

President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House in 2004. (White House photo)
President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the White House in 2004. (White House photo)

New York, N.Y., April 16, 2008 – The group that represents American business in the International Labor Organization and other major multilateral bodies voiced dismay at efforts in Congress to delay a vote on the U.S-Colombia trade agreement, noting the Colombian government’s clear progress on improving labor rights in the country.

The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) called on Congressional leaders to “show leadership” and approve the trade pact, pointing out that a recent ILO report found considerable progress in Colombian government efforts to protect trade unionists.

“We are dismayed and profoundly disappointed at efforts to block or delay consideration of the Colombia trade agreement,” said USCIB President Peter M. Robinson. “Not only does it needlessly stall implementation of an important market-opening bilateral agreement, it sends the wrong message to our trading partners around the world and our allies in the hemisphere, at precisely the wrong time.”

Under President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia is making key strides in reducing violence against trade unionists and in improving labor rights in general, with murders of labor activists falling sharply, from 196 the year he took office to 26 last year. Progress has also been documented by the ILO.

In March, following a high-level mission to Colombia, the ILO stated that “significant” progress had been made to protect labor rights in the country. ILO experts met with some 90 officials from the Colombian government, trade unions and business groups, and cited numerous areas of progress. These include:

  • the signing of a tripartite agreement on freedom of association and democracy in June 2006;
  • establishment of a tripartite national commission on wage and labor policies to oversee implementation of the agreement;
  • efforts to strengthen a special committee on the handling of conflicts referred to the ILO, which covers both the public and private sectors;
  • ILO projects in Colombia to promote fundamental labor rights, employment for women and youth, and local economic development;
  • agreement on a priority action plan including support for Colombia’s attorney general and special judges, registration of trade unions, collective bargaining and public service employment legislation, and new procedures for consultations with unions and employers on draft legislation.

The ILO report called this agreed plan of action a “significant step forward” and noted “a considerable increase in the flow of information on measures taken to protect workers against anti-union violence.”

“The ILO’s report confirms progress on labor issues, and other reports indicate a strong reduction in labor-related violence,” observed USCIB’s Mr. Robinson. “It is difficult to see how further delay of the trade agreement would produce better results, while it does risk undercutting the framework that has enabled this progress.”

“It is time for Congress to show leadership and responsibility,” he said. “We urge leaders to unfreeze the Colombia trade agreement and swiftly bring it to a vote.”

USCIB promotes an open system of global commerce. Its membership includes some 300 leading U.S. companies, professional services firms and associations. As the American member of the leading international business and employers’ organizations, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide and works to facilitate international trade. It is the U.S. affiliate of the International Organization of Employers, which serves as the official voice of business in the International Labor Organization, a tripartite United Nations body with representation from governments, business groups and trade unions. More information is available at www.uscib.org.

Contact:

Jonathan Huneke, VP Communications & Public Affairs, USCIB

+1 212 703-5043 or jhuneke@uscib.org

More on USCIB’s Trade and Investment Committee

More on USCIB’s Labor and Employment Committee

ILO website

Staff Contact:   Kira Yevtukhova

Acting Director of Communications
Tel: 202.617.3160

Kira Yevtukhova manages USCIB’s print and online publications, including the website, e-newsletter and quarterly magazine, and serves as the organization’s digital media strategist. Prior to this role, Kira worked for over five years within USCIB’s Policy Department, focusing on climate change, environment, nutrition, health, and chemicals related policy issues. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and is currently pursuing an MBA at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.
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