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Free trade agreement causes unrest in Colombia

Farmers struggle to compete with low prices

The free trade agreements recently signed between Columbia and the US and EU are causing considerable disquiet among many Columbians who are now facing the consequences. “Our country is unprepared for the consequences of the treaties, as the agricultural situation clearly shows. Both the current and previous governments have now saddled their 12 million farmers with enormous social problems,” says Julio Roberto Gomez Esguerra, Chairman of the Columbian trade union confederation CGT (one of CNV Internationaal’s partner organisations). Trade union leaders standing up for these farmers’ rights are facing threats. CNV Chairman Jaap Smit has written to President Santos of Columbia, strongly urging him to provide protection for the CGT management in the region of Barranquilla. Smit himself was in the country in July to visit his Columbian colleagues. The farmers in particular will struggle to compete with low prices. Growing 100 kilos of potatoes requires a farmer to invest around 70,000 Columbian pesos (roughly €27) in seed potatoes, machines, wages, fertilisers, pesticides etc.. In order to compete with heavily subsidised products from the US and EU, their sale price could be no higher than 25,000 pesos (€9.60). Growing 100 kilos of onions costs around 65,000 pesos (€25) with a sale price that cannot now exceed 10,000 pesos (€3.85). Blockades are bringing the country to a standstill
Protests that have broken out in transport as well as in agriculture are bringing the country to a standstill. Ironically these blockades are bringing stock levels in town shops to critical levels. Those same potatoes and onions are now being sold for extortionate prices, but of course the farmers themselves will never see a single peso of this. Trade union leader protection programme terminated
Armando de Oro Ibáñez of the trade union organisation UTRAL has been standing up for farmers in the region of Barranquilla. Following repeated threats he was placed in a government protection programme, but this was unfortunately terminated in July. Armando de Oro and the other board members were threatened again while they were in conference over the farmers’ issues at the end of August. The origin of these threats is suspected to be armed illegal groups. Although the government has promised investigations following requests from the CGT, further protection has not been forthcoming.

Publicatiedatum 09 10 2013