PC(USA) seeks to block free trade agreement with Colombia

WASHINGTON (PNS) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders are urging Congress
not to pass the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) until labor and human rights
conditions in that country improve.

Church officials working on the issue say many small-scale farmers in Colombia
have been forced off their land by paramilitary and guerilla groups who sell the land
for large-scale commercial farming, mining and other extractive industries. They say
trade unionists and human rights advocates have also been frequent targets of violence
in the country.

Opponents of CFTA say it would worsen these situations. They liken that prospect
to the results of past free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), which they say have led to increased anti-union violence and
economic exploitation of indigenous farmers.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama promised to oppose the
CFTA unless the human rights situation in Colombia improved. However, church
officials said in mid-June that the Obama administration was expected to submit the
agreement to Congress in the coming weeks. Once it hits the floor, Congress will have
90 days to take action on it.

Members of the PC(USA) are working to put pressure on the administration. The
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship organized a fast in June in collaboration with the
Presbyterian Church in Colombia, and the denomination’s Office of Public Witness
conducted a call-in campaign urging Obama to hold off on submitting the CFTA to
Congress.

General Assembly Stated Clerk the Rev. Gradye Parsons has also sent a
letter to Obama urging him not to introduce the CFTA to Congress in
its present form.

PC(USA) General Assemblies have repeatedly affirmed that trade justice
and U.S. economic policy toward developing nations are important
theological issues for the church. In 2003, the 215th GA extended a

call to Presbyterians to “oppose multinational actions and trade
agreements that elevate the rights of corporations over the right of
governments and indigenous peoples to pass and enforce laws that
preserve the public good and protect their citizens, economies, and
environments.”

In 2008, the 219th Assembly passed a similar resolution, this time
specifically addressing the situation in Colombia and Presbyterians’
responsibility to educate themselves and their representatives about
the economic injustice and the human rights abuses taking place there.

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