First reading of Colombia-US FTA is passed

The Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement passed its first reading in the Colombian Congress Thursday.

The FTA, a wide-ranging trade pact that will eliminate some tariffs and increase trade between the two countries, is expected to be passed into law before Colombia hosts the Summit of the Americas between April 14 and 15.

It is estimated that “the tariff reductions in the agreement will expand exports of US goods alone by more than $1.1 billion,” and will “increase U.S. GDP by $2.5 billion,” according to the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

As politicians passed the first reading of the pact, more details came out about its content, including one proposed change to reduce the minimum amount of Colombian content that must appear on domestic television stations.

If the FTA goes through as planned, the minimum amount of domestic content network has to air would be reduced from 50% to 30% between 10am and midnight on weekends and holidays, leaving much more space for U.S. programs.

The proposed FTA will also tighten up Colombian copyright laws, bringing them in line with the American standard that incorporates stronger deterrents against piracy of copyrighted materials such as music, movies and software.

The FTA endured years of delay before being signed, due to concerns about labor rights in Colombia, which has long been one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist. Colombia agreed to implement an action plan establishing benchmarks and timetables to strengthen labor laws and protect unionists — but murders continue.

An action plan signed last April saw Colombia promise to take measures against the threatening and killing of unionists, prosecute suspected murderers of labor rights activists and take measures to combat the exploitation of laborers.

But dozens of trade unionists were still murdered in 2011 — Colombian unions say 51, the government says 30 — and several more have been killed in 2012. Jose Fernandez, the U.S. assistant secretary for economic and business affairs, said last month Colombia had not yet met its FTA human rights conditions, though it was firmly on track.

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