Gov. Rick Scott will travel on an international trade mission to Colombia at the end of 2012, Sunshine State News reports today.
The site writes that “Enterprise Florida is now setting up plans for a Gov. Rick Scott-led trade mission to Colombia, one of the state’s largest trading partners” and adds that “no formal announcement for the end-of-year trip to South America has been made.” It points out that “Colombia, with $7.6 billion in merchandise trade for Florida in 2011, ranks third in terms of Florida trade.”
Scott’s office says the trip is scheduled for Dec. 2-5.
Last October, Congress confirmed a free trade agreement with Colombia that local business organizations say would benefit Florida’s economy. Opponents of the agreement have pointed to the murders of Colombian unionists — more than 2,900 in 25 years. The latest killing of four unionists came during the month of January.
Those murders prompted Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to urge President Obama last week to indefinitely postpone implementation of the free trade agreement.
One important factor that led to approval of the trade agreement was the inclusion of a Labor Action Plan, created to deal with anti-union violence. Trumka’s letter called on Obama to “ensure that the State Department and other U.S. agencies comply in full with the human rights conditions imposed on military aid to Colombia.”
“We never thought [the Labor Action Plan] would work,” Dan Kovalik, a labor lawyer and a member of United Steelworkers, tells The Florida Independent, ”because it was never designed to focus on what we view as the main problems in Colombia in terms of anti-union violence.”
Kovalik says that many of the laws included in the Labor Action Plan are not being implemented. But most importantly, he says, the Action Plan “was never geared specifically towards mandating a drop in union killings.”
In fact, Colombian unionist and human rights advocates point out that 28 union members have been murdered since the Labor Action Plan was signed in April 2011.
According to Kovalik, the Action Plan “also doesn’t deal with disbanding the [right-wing] paramilitaries, who were largely responsible for killing the unionists, and it never actually deals with impunity, in that it never again requires a certain percentage of cases to be solved and prosecuted.”
Sunshine State News reports that the Florida Chamber of Commerce will host a two-day event this week to highlight the importance of foreign trade for Florida’s economy. The event will feature Gov. Scott and Gabriel Silva, the Colombian ambassador to the United States.
Sunshine State News quotes Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president of international business development, as saying that Colombia “is in the midst of a tremendous amount of infrastructure investment which would create opportunities across the board for Florida companies.”
La Silla Vacia, a Colombian news outlet, reported in October that development of the necessary infrastructure to support economic deveolpment under the trade agreement — roads, ports, agriculture, mining, pharmaceuticals, etc. — has not happened, despite the fact that the Colombian government has known since 2006 they were necessary to make the country competitive once the trade agreement was approved.
Silla Vacia added that current President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration has not developed specific projects, adding that in order to build the necessary roads, for example, it would take months to approve bids, buy land and consult with the Afro-Colombian and indigenous people who live on the territory, adding that the Colombian government does not have the necessary funds to build the roads that would ensure competitiveness.