Ten Reasons to Oppose the Andean Free Trade Agreement

The Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) is an extension of the NAFTA and CAFTA-style “free trade” model into the Andean countries of Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. The agreement has been negotiated behind closed doors since 2004, with no transparency and no input from citizens. After November 2005, the attempt to bind the three countries under a single trade agreement failed, and the U.S. aimed to negotiate bilateral agreements separately with each country. In April of 2006, the U.S. and Peru signed a bilateral deal that could possibly serve as a framework for an eventual AFTA agreement. Negotiations with Colombia have finished despite massive opposition by civil society, while talks with Ecuador have stalled over a new hydrocarbon law that would increase taxes on oil companies. Meanwhile, social movements across the Andes have poured into the streets opposing the agreement.

1) AFTA Splinters Real Integration of the Andes

AFTA would drive a wedge into plans to integrate the Andean countries’ tiny economies into a common market. The geographical continuity of the Andean nations— Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia— made it logical to build a regional preferential trade agreement for Andean countries called the Community of Andean Nations (CAN). However, AFTA would divide the Andean economies by eliminating industry tariffs, forcing Andean industries to compete with one another for access to the U.S. market. Each country would face unfair competition from the U.S., whose economy is twelve times as large as that of the three countries combined.(1)

2) AFTA Legalizes Violent Threats to Workers

Since 1990, over 2100 union activists have been assassinated in Colombia, making it the most dangerous country in which to be a union worker.(2) Weak labor laws in AFTA would exacerbate crimes against union members, since it does not require governments to safeguard workers who are threatened by political violence. Instead of matching labor laws fought hard for by workers in the United States, the agreement instead locks in weak labor laws for governments to attract more corporate investment.

3) AFTA Worsens Environmental Contamination and Oil Conflicts

Hydrocarbon industries that fall under the service provisions of AFTA would be free to continue operating in areas of socio-environmental conflict such as the Camisea Natural Gas Field in Peru, which has drawn a massive outcry from civil society. Similarly, AFTA would make it illegal for indigenous communities to file lawsuits against multinationals responsible for environmental contamination, invoking a clause that such legal action would prevent corporations from collecting future profits. Legal action similar to the lawsuit against Chevron, which is currently facing a $6.5 billion claim for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic oil runoff in the northern Amazon in Ecuador, could no longer be served against multinationals responsible for environmental damage— giving oil companies a carte blanche to continue extracting energy resources from areas of mega-diverse regions populated by indigenous peoples.

4) AFTA Sets a Death Sentence for AIDS Patients

AFTA would privatize the healthcare sectors of Andean countries by eliminating government subsidies to healthcare. Especially at risk is generic access to antiretroviral medicines, included in special agreements that Andean governments have signed in order to purchase low cost generic meds from producer countries such as Brazil. The patent protection laws in AFTA would block Andean countries for five years from requesting a compulsory license to generically reproduce HIV meds produced by big pharmaceutical companies, leaving poor people with HIV to bear the higher costs of medicines. AFTA is a death sentence for the 280,000 Colombians, Peruvians, and Ecuadorians with HIV and AIDS.(3)

5) AFTA Displaces Small Farmers, and Sells them our Leftovers

AFTA allows the United States to dump its excess agricultural products into the Andes, whose dependence on net agricultural export would be replaced by the import of cheap, subsidized crops from the North. Included in the provisions for agricultural access in the negotiations between the US and Colombia are scores of 30 month-old cows that have Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which the US is trying to pawn illegally onto Colombian markets. Colombian negotiators have asked for these old, sick cows to be subjected to strict tariffs restricting their entry into the country, yet they deemed them good enough for Colombians to eat— despite the US having long ago banned the import of cows with BSE. AFTA would continue the double standard of using taxpayer dollars to maintain costly agricultural subsidies for corporate producers while eliminating tariffs that protect small farmers abroad.

6) Fair Immigration Means Stopping the NAFTA-CAFTA-AFTA Model

AFTA will only worsen illegal immigration to the United States as the elimination of protective state tariffs in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru will drop the bottom out from wages and erase job security from sectors important to the Andean economies, such as agriculture, mining, cut flowers, and services. Recently, President re-elect Alvaro Uribe of Colombia suggested that illegal Colombian migrants could be tracked by microchips planted in their bodies, a common practice of farmers who track herds of cow.(4)

7) AFTA Will Increase the Cultivation of Illegal Crops

Because AFTA would eliminate tariffs on agricultural goods, farmers in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia will be forced to turn increasingly towards the cultivation of coca. The US Drug War in the Andean Region has targeted the producers of the coca plant, however, and not the producers of crack and cocaine, who sell the drug at prices hundreds of times higher in the United States than what a coca farmer earns in the Andes.

In Bolivia, 12,000 hectares of coca are grown legally for domestic use in household Bolivian products such as medicine, soft drinks, soaps, and chewing gum.(5) Instead of providing local markets for the domestic use of legal coca in the Andes, AFTA will threaten traditional use of the plant by Andean indigenous people who consider coca part of their identity.

8) Latin Americans Want a Fairer Trade Model

In contrast to AFTA, Bolivia’s Tratado de Comercio de los Pueblos (Trade Agreement of the People, TCP) and Venezuela’s Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (ALBA) are endogenous trade agreements that create laws which would benefit the people of the Andes and Latin America, rather than foreign governments and multinational corporations.

Supported by indigenous populations of the Andean countries, Bolivia’s TCP “brings into the debate on trade integration principles of complementarity, cooperation, solidarity, reciprocity, prosperity and respect for countries’ sovereignty. In this way it incorporates aims that are absent in programs of trade integration proposed by the North, such as the effective reduction of poverty, the preservation of indigenous communities and respect for the environment.”(6)

9) Opposition is Building

Thousands have been organizing to defeat AFTA throughout the Andes and the U.S. with mass mobilizations in Lima, Peru; Cali, Colombia; and Quito, Ecuador; and pickets at the negotiations in Tucson, Atlanta, Miami, and Washington DC. Following the collapse of the Doha Round of the WTO and the failure of the NAFTA and CAFTA model, fair trade forces are poised for yet another victory. The defeat of AFTA could be the final nail in the coffin of the "free trade" model, once and for all.

10) We Can Win!

Despite tremendous popular opposition to AFTA in the Andes and here at home, it seems clear that most effective way to defeat the agreement will be in the US Congress. Members of Congress have been hearing a lot from their constituents about the negative impacts of free trade. Now more than ever it's important that you tell your congressperson to say no to AFTA and yes to Fair Trade!


(1) CIA Factbook
(2) US Labor Education and Action Project (US-LEAP)
(3) AVERT Website
(4) Lasso, Maria Amparo, “The Business of Legal Coca,” Inter Press Service, 01/28/2006.
(5) Movimiento Boliviano por la Soberanía y la Integración Solidaria de los Pueblos, 04/13/2006.