EU completes trade talks with Peru and Colombia
The European Union has completed negotiations over controversial free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, with member state and European Parliament approval now required.
Announcing the news on Monday (1 March), the European Commission, which negotiates on behalf of European capitals, said the deal included manufactured products, agriculture goods, services, and investment.
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The agreement provides for a complete liberalisation of trade in industrial products and fisheries between the two sides, the EU executive body said in a statement.
Full ratification would see initial tariff-free trade in 80 percent of industrial products with Peru, and 65 percent with Colombia, with a timetable put in place to remove the remaining barriers.
In a nod to development NGO concerns, the EU is set to provide Peru and Colombia with aid in order to modernise their economies and take full advantage of the trade agreement. An inability to compete with foreign companies following market liberalisation is among the chief criticisms leveled by FTA opponents.
A sustainability clause is designed to ensure environmental and human rights are respected in participating countries, though NGOs are doubtful about its effectiveness.
"Its efficiency as a tool to promote human rights has not worked in the past," Andrea Maksimovic, an international co-operation co-ordinator with Solidar, a European network of NGOs, told this website.
Ms Maksimovic says intellectual property rights obligations in the deal are set to have a negative impact on the poorer Latin American economies and that Colombia's human rights record does not merit the agreement.
The European Parliament has also voiced its concern over the high number of trade union deaths in Colombia, with the legislature's approval now needed under the Lisbon Treaty for full ratification of EU trade deals.
Colombian trade unionist killings account for roughly 60 percent of the world total, and MEPs have urged the commission to launch a formal enquiry before member states sign the bilateral agreement.
Deputies in favour of the deal say it will help to improve human rights in Colombia however, while critics say an FTA should be used as a carrot to drive improvements, and not be given away while murder rates are still high.
Following a similar debate on Sri Lanka, EU member states agreed last month to suspend trade preferences with the island nation amid accusations of government human rights abuses.
Spain, current holders of the EU's rotating presidency, has extensive business interests in South America and is pushing hard for member states to initial the agreement at an EU-Latin America summit in Madrid this May, although trade analysts question whether the timetable is achievable.
Aware of the diverging opinions on the subject, EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht told MEPs during a January hearing that there was a need for a "political agreement" on the topic, a possible implication that extra human rights requirements could be asked of Bogota.