This past Wednesday, April 6th 2011, President Obama announced the long-awaited initiation of a U.S.-Columbia free trade agreement (FTA). The agreement, which was expected to be reached back in 2006, had been held up originally by unfounded notions that free trade during a recession is a bad thing, but since the advent of a Democrat-controlled White House and Senate, the treaty has been stalled on grounds that Columbia must enact labor union protectionist policies.
According to the The Wall Street Journal:
Over the past couple of years, the biggest hurdle in Washington to a trade deal shifted from trade deficit fears to complaints by congressional Democrats over the frequent killings of labor leaders in Colombia by right-wing groups, some of which were alleged to have ties to the Colombian government.
The killing of innocent life is obviously abhorrent. As a philosophical Objectivist and political Libertarian, I see the initiation of force as a moral failing and a clear violation of an individual’s right to life. However, I also see intrusive economic policies with attached stipulations as a violation of an individual’s right to liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness. By presenting conditions upon which free individuals may trade with each other hardly seems like a province of state concern. However, that presupposes the government recognizes the individual as free, competent enough to trade, and not a warren of state policy.
The Democrat’s claims that the violence against labor union leaders in Colombia were the hurdles that blocked the FTA, are overblown. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, “homicide rates are nearly three times higher in the United States (5.4 per 100,000) than among Colombian labor union members (1.9 per 100,000).” Furthermore, a study over at the Cato Institute concluded that “the overall murder rate in Colombia has declined dramatically in the past decade, and the murder rate against members of labor unions has declined even more rapidly. A union member in Colombia today is one-sixth as likely to be a victim of homicide as a fellow citizen who does not belong to a union.”
It should come to no surprise that the political left in this country will, in all instances possible, defend their historical voting blocks. The recent Wisconsin hoop-la over union powers and their degree of leverage over government had unearthed the entrenched relationship between the Democratic Party and domestic labor unions, but the Colombian FTA sheds a new light. It is now obvious that the Democrats see no reason why they should not dictate their own labor policies upon other sovereign nations. Claude Barfield recognized this fact over at the American Enterprise Institute:
[I]n many ways these provisions represent a callous trampling on Colombia’s sovereignty and the right to determine for itself specific priorities and obligations in the domestic labor market. Among the more egregious demands, Colombia has acquiesced to “criminalize” (with prison terms of up to five years) any acts that “undermine the right to organize and bargain collectively.” It must also pass a law dictating prison terms for anyone who “offers a collective pact to non-union workers that is superior to terms for union workers.” No definition of “undermine” or “superior terms,” of course, is set forth.
It has become more and more clear that this free trade agreement has very little to do with freedom. Sure, trade between our two countries will grow, but it seems that as a result, the Colombian people have become less free to organize themselves the way they wish to (or not organize for that matter).
This unfortunate display of economic foreign policy by the Democrats should make it clear that they are ill-equipped – ideologically – to represent the United States’ interests. It also illuminates the flagrant disregard for the individual rights of both Colombians and Americans. While I support free trade, I oppose intrusive expeditions of the state into the lives of free people, and I hope Colombians recognize what is being perpetrated upon them by their government and ours.