Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

Chiquita Sells Unit, Fed Probe Ongoing

Chiquita Brands International Inc. (CQB.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , which is being probed by the U.S. government for payments its Colombian business made to right-wing gunmen, said on Friday it will sell the unit to a Colombian banana producer for about $51.5 million.

Chiquita expects to record a $5 million loss after taxes from the sale. The deal comes a month after the Cincinnati-based fruit distributor said it was being probed for making "protection" payments to Colombian groups the U.S. government calls terrorist organizations.

Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell said the sale would not affect the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation, but added that the probe contributed to the company's decision to sell its Colombian banana-producing and port operations.

"It's a factor but it's not the only factor," Mitchell said.

Chiquita's Colombian operations made up about 9 percent of its worldwide banana volume.

The sale to Invesmar Ltd., the holding company of Colombian banana producer and exporter C.I. Banacol S.A., is expected to close within the next 30 days, Chiquita said in a statement.

Under terms of the deal, Chiquita will receive $28.5 million in cash, $15 million in notes and deferred payments, and will assume $8 million in pension liabilities.

The transaction also includes two separate eight-year agreements under which Chiquita will buy about 11 million boxes of Colombian bananas and 2.5 million boxes of Costa Rican pineapples annually from Banacol's affiliates.

Also on Friday, thousands of banana workers in Colombia, the world's largest third-largest exporter of the fruit, returned to their jobs after a 15-day strike ended with a new wage agreement, a union official said.

The strike, the Colombian sector's longest since 1989, caused about $15 million in losses.

In April 2003, Chiquita's management and audit committee voluntarily disclosed to the DOJ that its Colombian unit had been forced to make "protection" payments.

The payments went to certain Colombian groups that have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law, the company said.

Chiquita said the groups made threats against its workers and that it made the payments only to protect its employees.

The admission appeared unprecedented, as it is an open secret in Colombia that companies are occasionally forced to buy off illegal armed groups fighting in the country's four-decade-old war.

Chiquita ships bananas from plants in northern Colombia in areas with a heavy presence of the outlawed far-right United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, which has been linked to some of the worst human rights abuses in recent Colombian history.

Chiquita shares closed at $19 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.