Free trade agreement between EU and Colombia, Peru, Ecuador. Public consultation in Brussels

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The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the free trade agreement between the EU and Colombia, Peru, Ecuador. The agreement is already provisionally applied with Peru since 1.3.13, Colombia since 1.8.13, and Ecuador since 1.1.17. (1)

Interested social partners-citizens, associations and other public and private entities-can comment by 8.4.21 on the dedicated web page. Some food for thought to follow.

Andean Community – EU, preferential access

The Andean Community is an interregional integration bloc consisting of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Until 2012, these countries had enjoyed the benefits of unilateral preferential access to the EU market under the Generalised Scheme of Preference Plus (GSP+).

However, the reform imposed by the World Bank on the preferential system would not have allowed Colombia, Peru and Ecuador to maintain preferential access to the EU market. The three countries had therefore begun negotiations for a new agreement with the European Union, which was reached in 2010 after nine rounds of negotiations.

The new EU agreement – Colombia, Peru, Ecuador

The agreement concluded between the EU and Colombia, Peru, Ecuador is one of the first ‘new generationFree Trade Agreements (FTAs ). As aimed at facilitating the opening of the markets of the countries involved through the promotion of sustainable development that increases the stability and predictability of the business and investment environment.

Thus, the treaty goes beyond the liberalization of trade in goods and services, a typical subject of Free Trade Agreements. To extend to the areas of investment, public procurement, competition, and intellectual property rights. As well as issues related to trade and sustainable development, which follow.

Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD)

The new EU strategy onTrade and Sustainable Development(TSD) is expressed through the introduction of a special chapter in the text of the agreement on labor rights, environmental protection and civil society. The Parties undertake to:

– Promote and implement worker protection standards established in international conventions (ILO, International Labor Organization, UN). With specific reference to trade union rights (freedom of association, right to collective bargaining), the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the effective abolition of child labor and discrimination, (2)

– Recognize the value of international environmental protection agreements as the international community’s response to global and regional environmental problems and stresses. (3) With a view to strengthening mutual support between trade and the environment.

Sustainability à la carte

Sustainability-which Title IX of the agreement is dedicated to, moreover-is devoid of sanctions. That is, ecocides and abuses of workers’ rights are not worth interrupting the business advantages of those who are responsible for them or otherwise benefit from them. Since commitments on paper are excluded from both the treaty’s termination clauses and the dispute settlement procedure.

Violation of international labor or environmental protection standards is only subject to a sluggish three-step ‘alternative dispute resolution procedure’. Government consultations with possible convening of ‘Subcommittee on Trade and Sustainable Development‘. In case of failure, a ‘group of (three) experts’ submits a report with non-binding recommendations.

Land robbery, palm oil

‘Of particular concern is the strong growth in Colombian palm oil exports, which has doubled in the past four years. Colombia exports 52 percent of its palm oil to the EU; the largest buyers are the Netherlands, followed by Spain.

But in Colombia, oil palm cultivation is just as contentious as coal mining. This crop is responsible for numerous disputes with farmers and indigenous peoples, who have had to give way to the expansion of palm plantations.’ (4)

Land grabbing, deforestation, child labor

Colombia has achieved in just a few years the record for palm oil production in the Americas, thanks to conflicts and land robbery(land grabbing) widely documented by international observers. (5) Peru, in its Amazon area, itself experiences land robbery and deforestation due to intensive oil palm monoculture. (6)

The conditions of workers in the Andean Community are far from the standards of basic rights proclaimed in international conventions. Especially in Colombia, where violence (including) against union leaders continues to occur. And in Peru, where child labor and black labor are found to be entrenched, freedoms of association and collective bargaining almost unknown (especially in the textile and agriculture sectors). (4)

Human Rights

The Brussels executive had indicated in 2012 that a ‘strict human rights clause‘ would be supplemented by ‘appropriate safeguards‘ designed to ensure compliance with international labor standards. A European Parliament resolution that same year had stated that the treaty between the EU and Colombia, Peru, Ecuador contains ‘comprehensive and binding provisions (…) that guarantee the protection of human rights.’ (7)

The situation is particularly grave in Colombia, where five years after the peace agreement with the FARC(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) the massacre – by para-military militias – of human rights defenders continues unabated, 120 killed in 2020 alone. As well as trade unionists, civil servants, former guerrillas involved in social reintegration programs. (8)

Conclusions and conditions

The evaluation of the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Colombia, Peru, Ecuador cannot be separated from a thorough and independent verification of effective respect for fundamental human rights and the environment. These guarantees are a prerequisite and condition of the treaty itself and are entirely absent, particularly in the case of Colombia. (9)

The European Parliament, in a resolution 22.10.20 on deforestation and biodiversity, urged the Commission to introduce a ban on the import of raw materials and products derived from ecosystem-disrespectful supply chains. (10) In anticipation of this dutiful act of environmental justice, which the Von der Leyen Commission has itself promised in the EU Farm to Fork strategy, let there be an immediate end to the importation of palm oil and other commodities from Colombia under favorable terms.

Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) Protocol of Accession to the Trade Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and Colombia and Peru, of the other part, to take account of the accession of Ecuador,%3A22016A1224%

(2) Dario Dongo. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 30 years without solutions. Égalité. 17.11.19, https://www.egalite.org/convenzione-onu-per-i-diritti-dellinfanzia-30-anni-senza-soluzione/

(3) Dario Dongo. Biodiversity and climate emergency, the common thread. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 13.3.20, https://www.egalite.org/biodiversita-ed-emergenza-climatica-il-filo-comune/

(4) Commission Justice et Paix (NGO, Belgium). Thomas Fritz (2018). Cinco Años del Tratado de Libre Comercio de la Unión Europea con Colombia y Perú. Valores Europeos puestos a Prueba. blob: https://ec.europa.eu/43f5110d-e90f-41e6-8ba1-042faddaa867

(5) Dario Dongo. Colombia, palm oil and conflict. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 2.8.17, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/colombia-olio-di-palma-e-conflitti

(6) Dario Dongo. Palm oil in Peru. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 17.8.17, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/idee/olio-di-palma-in-perù

(7) European Parliament. Resolution 13.6.12 on the trade agreement between the European Union and Colombia and Peru (2012/2628(RSP)). https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-7-2012-0249_IT.html

(8) OHCHR. Bachelet urges Colombia to improve protection amid heightened violence in remote areas. 12/15/20, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26608&LangID=E

(9) The unjustified favorable conditions accorded to Colombia in accessing the EU market, moreover, discriminate against most of the 79 ACP countries http://www.acp.int/content/secretariat-acp (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States). Who in turn export agricultural raw materials to EU, at heavier duty regimes

(10) European Parliament. Resolution 22.10.20 with recommendations to the Commission regarding an EU legal framework to halt and reverse global deforestation attributable to the EU (2020/2006(INL)). https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0285_IT.html

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.