The long process of negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with members of the Andean Community may be winding up in the next few months. On 16 March 2012, the EU’s trade ministers authorized Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht to sign the FTA with Colombia and Peru once it has been finalized. This means that the agreement could get the go-ahead as early as September, if the European Parliament gives its consent.
However, concerns about labor rights could stall the FTA on its way through the European Parliament. The agreement does contain commitments related to the enforcement of both labor and environmental standards. However, trade unionists and other groups are calling for a “no” on the FTA in protest against labor rights violations in Colombia.
This tension echoes the debate that has been raging in the US Congress for the past several years regarding the approval of a US FTA with Colombia. Though the US-Colombia FTA was signed in November 2006, it only received the approvial of Congress in October 2011, after the conclusion of a special Labor Action Plan to ensure protection of labor rights.
The EU-Colombia/Peru FTA is the product of negotiations that began in 2007 with the Andean Community. The broader talks were suspended in 2008 due to differences within the Andean bloc, following which the EU went on to complete negotiations only with Colombia and Peru. The FTA will remain open to signature by Ecuador and Bolivia, the two remaining members of the Andean Community.
For those who would like to read further, an extensive analysis of the agreement and its costs and benefits is available here.