‘Economic interests override human rights’ in EU trade deal



Leading human and labour right activists have expressed their dismay at the European Parliament’s decision to give the green light to a trade agreement that ignores anti-union violence in Colombia and Peru.

In a vote won by an 80 per cent majority, members of the International Trade Committee called on the Parliament to approve the trade deal which will liberalise trade between the EU and the two Andean countries by eliminating export and import tariffs for goods and services.

But Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, according to a survey by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Peru has also been repeatedly accused of breaching international standards on freedom of association, as well as environmental and indigenous rights.

For this reason, both governments were requested to present roadmaps on human rights and environmental protection.

However, critics say that the documents delivered by Peru and Colombia were nothing more than ‘hot air’.

“What we got in the end from the two countries was far from being a roadmap. [They were] far from including measurable and verifiable targets,” said Ska Keller, a German MEP for The Greens, one of a handful of parties opposed to the agreement.

“It is very disappointing that our concerns have not been taken up by our colleagues in the International Trade Committee”.



Trade unions have also complained that they were never consulted in the process to produce the roadmaps.

“In Colombia, national confederations have not been invited to discuss the proposal. Participation has also been lacking in Peru.

"The text refers to a National Agreement in which trade unions and civil society organisations were not involved,” said Isabelle Hoferlin, the ITUC regional coordinator for Asia-Pacific and the Americas.

European enterprises, however, disagree with this position, expressing that the document contains clear norms regarding the respect to fundamental rights.

“The significant benefits that this Free Trade Agreement will bring to the European labour market and the growth agenda fully justifies its ratification,” said Business Europe, a lobbying group that represents industrial and employers’ federations from 35 countries

The deal will also “facilitate trade, especially non-tariff barriers, particularly in areas where the EU is highly competitive but burdened by foreign standards and technical regulation,” says a website set up by Proexport, a Colombian governmental agency.

Early in 2011, Colombia ratified a similar deal with the United States with far better commitments to eradicate violence against labour defenders. The plan, however, has failed to improve the situation.

Since the agreement took effect, 34 trade unionists have been assassinated and further 485 leaders have received death threats for defending labour rights in Colombia.

According to Keller, it is clear who will be the losers and winners of the new arrangement:

“My (MP) colleagues find extremely important to see the benefits for the EU itself," she says.

"For instance, the milk export is, for them, the important thing to do because it relieves the milk market here of some pressure. It is economic interest that overrides human rights concerns.”

The final voting of the European Parliament will take place on the 11 December.

Human and labour rights activists consider this to be the last chance to postpone the deal.

If the plenary votes positively, preliminary measures will automatically come into force.