Hon. Peter Van Loan (Minister of International Trade, CPC)
moved that Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, our government has indicated the priority that we place on implementing free trade agreements to help Canadian businesses compete in international markets. Today's debate on approval of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement reflects this objective of creating jobs and opportunities for Canadian workers through trade.
It is more important than ever to ensure economic cooperation with key partners. The government is therefore determined to establish and strengthen bilateral and multilateral trade relations to ensure the continuing prosperity of Canadians.
The global economic crisis emphasized the importance and urgency of expanding trade and investment relationships through improved market access.
Our government is committed to pursuing bilateral and multilateral trade relationships that bring continued prosperity to Canadians right here at home. The global economic crisis emphasizes the importance and urgency of expanding trade and investment relations to improve market access.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is one of many efforts by our government to expand opportunities for Canadian business. As members know, we have entered an age of fierce global competition.
Emerging economies continue climbing the value chain and establishing themselves in an ever-widening range of sectors.
Canadian businesses and Canadian workers are up to the challenge of competing internationally.
We must seek out more trade and investment opportunities for our businesses. Our government recognizes these challenges.
We are standing up for Canadian business to ensure that they can compete and succeed worldwide, and n particular, Canadian workers.
The government launched negotiations with Colombia and other Andean partners in June 2007. I am proud to say that we continue working hard to create new opportunities abroad to benefit Canadian workers at home.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, along with the related agreements on the environment and labour are an important part of this broader trade agenda.
Canada currently has long-standing free trade agreements in force with the United States and Mexico under the North America Free Trade Agreement, and agreements with Israel, Chile and Costa Rica.
Under this government, we recently implemented new free trade agreements with the European Free Trade Association and Peru.
In 2009, we also signed a free trade agreement with Jordan, which I had the pleasure of tabling in the House today.
On August 11, 2009, the government successfully concluded free trade negotiations with Panama. At the announcement of the conclusion of the Panama negotiations, the Prime Minister himself emphasized that Canada's commitment was to stronger trade partnerships.
We are on the right track and are also looking ahead to other important partners in the world. At the Canada-European Union Summit last May, the government launched negotiations toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. We also remain dedicated to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiations with other partners, including Central American countries, the Caribbean community and the Dominican Republic.
Those are all examples of how hard the government is working to pursue, develop and expand trade opportunities and relationships that work for Canadians. Our trade agenda is ambitious and Canadians deserve the opportunities our government is continuing to deliver.
We are currently working to launch negotiations with new partners, such as Morocco and the Ukraine, and exploring deeper trade ties with India and Japan.
The government is also working to send a clear message to the world: Canada is open for business. And we are getting the job done.
Our recent economic action plan is making significant investments in our national innovation strategy. We have also cut corporate taxes to make Canada more attractive to business. We have the lowest taxes on new business entrants who are creating jobs, lower taxes on new business than anywhere in the G7. In 2012 we will have the lowest business taxes across the board in the G7.
We have made Canada the first country in the G20 to have a tariff-free zone for a broad range of machinery and equipment for Canadian manufacturers. Eliminating tariffs on new equipment, parts and machinery will help make our manufacturers more innovative, more productive and more cost-competitive. We are helping Canadian companies at home and we will continue to ensure they can compete abroad.
By bringing down barriers to trade and investment, this government is helping Canada's businesses compete in an ever-more competitive world and stimulate the Canadian economy.
By passing this free trade agreement with Colombia we are listening to Canadian businesses and providing what they need to stay competitive.
A closer economic partnership with Colombia will reduce tariffs for Canadian exporters.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement will also expand opportunities for Canadian investors and service providers.
Colombia is already a significant trade partner for Canada.
In 2009, our two-way merchandise trade totalled $1.335 billion and Colombia is an established and growing market for Canadian exports. Over the past five years, Canadian merchandise exports have grown by over 55%.
Colombia is also a strategic destination for Canadian investment. The stock of Canadian investment in Colombia reached approximately $1.1 billion in 2008.
However, that is not all. The Colombian market is an exciting one. With 48 million people. Colombia's macroeconomic policy and improved security under its current leadership have generated favourable economic conditions. Colombia's government is committed to reversing years of underinvestment and public infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure has grown from 4% of the country's gross domestic product in 2005 to more than 8% in 2009.
A country like ours, with so much expertise in this area, can offer a lot. These are areas where Canadian companies can compete. In fact, the potential goes far beyond infrastructure and includes other key sectors like agriculture and industrial goods, and services like engineering, mining, energy and financial services. These are all areas where Canada and Canadians excel.
Moreover, those sectors are linchpins of our economy in communities large and small across this great nation, but this agreement is not just about creating opportunities for Canadian business. It is also about strengthening our partnership with Colombia.
This will help solidify ongoing efforts by the Government of Colombia to create a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy. The Government of Colombia has taken positive steps toward this goal.
Colombia has demonstrated its continued efforts to curb violence, fight impugnity and promote peace and security. This government recognizes that challenges remain in Colombia and is committed to working with Colombia to address those issues.
This government believes that economic growth through free trade, rules-based trade and investment can contribute to alleviating poverty and create new wealth and opportunities for Colombians. We want the business of both nations to grow and expand together. Colombians are looking for and need these kinds of opportunities and they are seeking new partnerships abroad.
The Government of Colombia, like ours, is working hard to acquire new markets for its citizens. In fact, Colombia is moving forward on an ambitious economic agenda that includes free trade agreements with a range of partners. Canada's main competitor in the Colombian market, the United States, has already completed a free trade agreement with Colombia.
Our firms and Canadian workers expect that their government will work for them and put in place trade agreements that address the situation and allow them to compete in international markets on a level playing field. Canadians deserve this. Our government is ensuring that they get the opportunity to compete and succeed in Colombia and around the world.
We cannot put our exporters at a relative disadvantage. The time for Canada to act is now. The time for members opposite to stand up for Canadian workers is now.
Not only will we be competitive with European nations, but Canadian business will also have an important opportunity to gain advantage over our main competitors in the United States.
With this FTA, Canadians will be able to expand into this important market. This is exactly the kind of opportunity Canadian businesses across the country have been asking for.
I believe it is important for the members of the House to clearly understand the importance of the Colombian market for the business in their regions, for their constituents and, in fact, for all Canadians.
Starting on the east coast, the provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador exported about $52.8 million worth of products to Colombia directly benefiting core industries such as oil, paper, paper board and fertilizers. These industries will clearly benefit from freer trade with Colombia.
What about machinery and industrial goods?
It is no secret that Canadian manufacturers, especially in Canada's industrial heartland in Ontario and Quebec, are facing tough times these days.
Our economic recovery is fragile and they need all the opportunities they can get to grow stronger and more competitive.
This means opening doors in new markets like Colombia. With this agreement, Colombian tariffs on all machinery and industrial goods will be eliminated over time.
This is especially significant for Canadian manufacturers of mining equipment, centred in Ontario and Quebec, which all benefit from the immediate elimination of Colombia's 5-15%+ tariffs on products in this sector.
I must say this agreement is also very important for the province of Quebec. After all, 21.6% of Canada's exports to Colombia were from Quebec. That is over a fifth. Quebeckers employed in industries such as paper and paperboard, copper and machinery will clearly benefit from free trade with Colombia.
The Bloc members' opposition to this baffles me. They do not stand for Canadian business. They do not stand for Canadian workers. They do not even stand for Quebec workers. We will stand up for Quebec workers and give them the opportunities they need.
The Prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will also benefit from the agreement. The immediate removal of Colombian tariffs from such cornerstone crops as wheat, barley and pulses will make these products from the Canadian Prairies even more competitive in the Colombian market. Prairie producers are a cornerstone of our economy. They will see clear benefits from free trade with Colombia.
I should also point out that Canada enjoys significant investment presence in the Colombian market thanks to oil and gas projects. We fully expect this presence to deepen as projects continue to develop.
Our free trade agreement with Colombia would help secure Canadian investments in the region by providing greater predictability and protection for investors. These investment provisions will directly benefit those Alberta firms that are investing in Colombia. British Columbia also stands to benefit, especially B.C.'s mechanical, machinery and paper industries. In fact, many British Columbia companies have told us that they are looking to expand trade with Colombia.
With those kinds of benefits across Canada, it is no wonder that Canadian businesses, investors and producers alike have been calling for closer commercial ties with Colombia for some time now. The time to act is now. Members opposite should listen to Canadians who have been loud and clear.
Colombia has an ambitious and aggressive free trade agenda that includes some key competitors for Canada, competitors like the U.S. and the EU. We need to take steps sooner rather than later to ensure that Canadian exporters, investors and producers in regions and provinces across the country are not put at a disadvantage relative to our competitors.
Our Canadian exporters, investors and producers welcome the opportunity to establish themselves in this market ahead of the competition. They can compete with the best in the world. Let us give them the opportunity to do so. We have negotiated a good deal for Canadians and Colombians alike.
This agreement would give Colombians greater access and opportunities in the North American market. Colombians would also benefit from a greater range of Canadian products. This agreement would also promote economic development in the region.
I cannot stress enough how important that is. Building and maintaining important trade partnerships is the only way to grow and create opportunities for people.
That is why we are here today. The government wants to create opportunities for our citizens and the citizens of Colombia. This agreement is the way to do exactly that.
We have heard the reasons why we should support this agreement before. We have debated it for over 30 hours and the standing committee has already studied it twice. It is now time to move ahead with the legislation. Unlike the NDP approach to trade, this government's priority is to aggressively pursue a free trade agenda. Now is the time to resist protectionism and open our markets. Our free trade agenda has proven to create jobs for all Canadians, in fact, trade is the key to our prosperity.
At a time of economic uncertainty, this should be the priority of all hon. members. For this reason, I ask for the support of all members for the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and ask them to stand up for jobs for all Canadians. Now is not the time to play political games, move dilatory motions and tie up the House while we delay the economic opportunities for Canadian workers and businessmen. Let us get on with this legislation. We must move expeditiously forward for the benefit of all Canadians.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, when we last debated this legislation in the fall of 2009, I asked the House to consider the human dimension of this free trade agreement.
I said that this debate should not be about ideology, it should be about people, the people of Colombia whose lives have been ripped apart and turned upside down by civil war and narco-politics, the good, decent and proud people of Colombia who deserve a better future and the kind of economic opportunities provided by legitimate trade.
Throughout the debate on this FTA, the Liberal Party has put people not ideology first. Unlike some of the other parties in the House, we have not been blinded by an ideology that believes that all free trade agreements are good or, on the other hand, that all free trade agreements are bad. Instead we have carefully studied the conditions surrounding Colombia's political environment, economy and society.
We have examined and considered carefully how this free trade agreement could impact the people of Colombia and the people of Canada. We have looked for ways to strengthen this agreement in order to better protect the people of Colombia and to strengthen our engagement on human rights issues with the people of Colombia.
There is no question that Colombia is a violent country, where human rights abuses have been fueled by the illegal narco-economy. At the same time, the Colombia government has made significant progress toward reducing violence and human rights abuses. This progress must be supported.
As President Barack Obama said after his meeting with the president of Colombia:
|| I commended President Uribe on the progress that has been made in human rights in Colombia and dealing with the killings of labor leaders there, and obviously we've seen a downward trajectory in the deaths of labor unions and we've seen improvements when it comes to prosecution of those who are carrying out these blatant human rights offenses. President Uribe acknowledges that there remains more work to be done, and we look forward to cooperating with him to continue to improve both the rights of organized labor in Colombia and to protect both labor and civil rights leaders there.
Earlier this month, Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, tabled her annual report on the situation of human rights in Colombia. In this report she also recognized that:
||—the significant progress made in terms of a drastic reduction in the number of complaints of extrajudicial executions and the continuous prosecution of members of Congress and public officials for alleged links with paramilitary organizations.
She also recognized:
||—the Government’s openness to international scrutiny...[and] the spirit of cooperation that exists between the Government and OHCHR-Colombia and the commitment of the Government to address human rights challenges.
On the issue of extrajudicial executions, she writes:
|| Since November 2008, complaints of extrajudicial executions attributed to security forces...have drastically decreased, primarily as a result of the implementation and monitoring of the measures adopted in October and November 2008 by the President and the Ministry of Defense.
Therefore, the government is taking action. There is more work to be done, but the fact is the government is doing everything it can. It needs support and it needs legitimate trade opportunities to wean people from the narco-economy, which fuels much of this violence.
The report explains that:
|| In 2009, the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law National Unit of the Attorney General’s Office recorded 7 cases compared to 144 in 2008 and 464 in 2007.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights continues by placing the violence in context:
|| The report demonstrates how the internal armed conflict continues to pose many challenges for the country, including the complete disregard for international humanitarian law by guerrilla groups [FARC]. This situation is exacerbated by violence against civilians committed by illegal armed groups that emerged after the demobilization of paramilitary organizations, links between illegal armed groups and drug trafficking, and the particularly acute impact of the internal armed conflict on indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities.
The armed conflict is drug fuelled by drug money. It began initially as an ideological battle with FARC on the left. It has now become largely a drug war between demobilized paramilitaries who are now drug thugs and the FARC. Again, it is a business of the narco-economy and drug money fuelled conflict. The best way, once again, to wean the people from this violence is to provide legitimate economic opportunities.
On a previous visit to Colombia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said:
|| I was impressed by the increased expenditure on government programmes to protect and support vulnerable groups. Such efforts, in a country facing such a complex and multifaceted armed conflict, must be acknowledged and encouraged.
Still, we all recognize that there is much work to be done.
Standing in the way of further progress is poverty, resulting from persistently high unemployment rates in Colombia. That is one area where free trade could help. To increase trade, Canada can help build Colombia's legitimate economy, creating real jobs for Colombians, including the most vulnerable. We can provide opportunities that help wean Colombians off their illegal and violent narco-economy. At the same time, this free trade agreement can help strengthen the protection of Colombian workers.
In fact in committee, Canadian senior official Pierre Bouchard of HRSDC has called the labour cooperation agreement in this FTA “the most comprehensive labour agreement in the world today”. No two countries have signed an FTA with a labour agreement as strong as the one in this trade agreement and our amendment today, as we move forward, will even further strengthen human rights and labour rights in Colombia.
The Liberal Party did want to do better and go further, wanted to do more to ensure engagement on labour rights and human rights in Colombia. That is why we sat down with the Colombian government. We listened to the concerns of Canadians and worked to strengthen this agreement by improving public oversight in the area of human rights.
While Liberals recognize that free trade can create jobs and strengthen the economies of both Canada and Colombia, we also share the concerns of those who believe this FTA must strengthen the protection of human rights in Colombia. The result is a first for any free trade agreement in the world.
Both Canada and Colombia will, under this agreement, now be required to measure and analyze the impact of this FTA on human rights both in Canada and Colombia. Each government must then table an annual report analyzing the impact of this FTA on human rights. This requirement puts the focus on achieving sustained progress in the area of protecting the rights and security of the Colombian people.
If the reports are tabled in Parliament, the human rights impact assessment will be available to the public, will be debated at the trade committee. We can hear from witnesses, both from Colombia and Canada, on an annual basis. It will deepen the transparency and accountability of this trade agreement, and I believe it will be a gold standard for trade agreements signed between countries around the world.
Dr. Jorge Rojas Rodriguez is a civil society leader in Colombia and president of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement. He says about this amendment:
||...this proposal sends a strong political message to Colombia about Canada's interest in seeing the human rights situation improve in the coming years.
He believes that this human rights reporting mechanism has the potential to become an important tool for improving human rights in Colombia and also for involving the private sector in achieving that goal. Dr. Rojas supports our outreach to Colombian civil society in the preparation of this innovative proposal and believes the amendment has the potential to set an important precedent for other FTAs.
Dr. Leon Valencia is a prominent civil society leader in Colombia and the executive director of Arco Iris. He says:
|| I think it is interesting and useful that the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and Canada includes an amendment which requires both governments to present an annual report to the respective Parliaments on the repercussions of the agreement on human rights in each country.
|| This will provide an important yearly forum to discuss the situation in Colombia, and will give Canadian citizens the opportunity to monitor human rights violations in our country.
Dr. Valencia goes on to say about this amendment:
|| Canada's proposal is innovative and converts the Treaty into something which is dynamic and provides new platforms for analysis and discussion. Perhaps this could be included in other free trade agreements.
Dr. Gerardo Sánchez Zapata, president of Colombia's apparel and textile industry trade union, representing eight other private sector unions, has said:
|| This procedure is welcomed by Colombian workers and we are thankful to the Honorable Parliament of Canada for its position, because it helps strengthen a mechanism already in place that monitors and evaluates the progress in matters of human rights and freedom of association in our country, through annual reports to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations.
|| It also helps our efforts, as trade unions, in interceding with the national government to adapt our legislation to the international standards and regulations...
This amendment, this approach, this deeper human rights engagement and accountability and transparency is being endorsed by private sector unions in Colombia, by some leaders of civil society in Colombia and by human rights organizations. With this amendment in place, Canadian parliamentarians will be able to call forward civil society groups on an ongoing annual basis and require testimony from our public officials and expert witnesses in order to hold governments and companies to account for actions taken under this FTA.
If it becomes clear that the FTA is not strengthening human rights, the fact is that either country can cancel the agreement with six months' notice. But we have to believe that this agreement will be upheld and that further progress will be achieved because economic engagement, through the right trade agreements, can fortify human rights engagement. Colombia has a strong, independent judiciary that can be counted on to uphold the rule of law, and we have seen that recently. In the words of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights:
|| The Supreme Court and the Attorney General's Office are incredibly brave in investigating and bringing to trial public officials linked to mafias and drug trafficking in the so-called 'Para-politics'.
|| We should all support their efforts in such difficult circumstances and continue to uphold the independence of the judiciary—something Colombia is rightly proud of.
On the issue of President Uribe's seeking a third term, the leader of the official opposition, the hon. member for Toronto Centre, our foreign affairs critic for the Liberal Party, and I, as trade critic for the Liberal Party, had serious concerns that we raised directly with President Uribe. On February 26, 2010, Colombia's constitutional court ruled 7:2 against a referendum permitting presidents to run for three consecutive terms. Despite the overwhelming support of the Colombian congress for this popular referendum, the court ruled that the measure posed substantial violations to democratic principles and was thus unconstitutional.
President Uribe announced immediately that he would respect the ruling of the court. That decision by that court demonstrates the independence of the judiciary in Colombia. This free trade agreement will put in place a more robust legal framework that will better protect the environment, strengthen labour laws and encourage stronger corporate social responsibility for Canadian investors.
As Carol Nelder-Corvari, of Finance Canada, emphasized in her testimony before the trade committee, trade between Canada and Colombia is already taking place but without a rules-based system to encourage stronger labour and human rights. So we already have a trading relationship. This trade agreement brings with it stronger rules on labour and the environment, which can only help fortify labour rights and environmental protection in Colombia.
As Carol Nelder-Corvari said at committee: “I want to be clear that Canadian investors are investing in Colombia, have been investing in Colombia and are increasing their investment in Colombia”.
She said that this is the strongest labour agreement related to any FTA in existence, that corporate social responsibility aspects of this agreement are the first time Canada has placed such commitments and that they are in the investment chapter and in the environment chapter. It is an area of cooperation that has ongoing dialogue with Colombia and our investors in Colombia. This agreement gives us avenues of engagement we have never had before.
Canadian businesses are taking note. With the signing of this agreement, Canadian entrepreneurs are prepared to make long-term investments that will benefit the Colombian people. Canadian agricultural interests are supportive of this agreement. Canadian business organizations, including some members of the small business community, see the opportunities with this agreement.
In terms of infrastructure, and I heard the minister refer earlier refer to the importance and the dramatic need for the Colombian people to invest in and strengthen their infrastructure, Toronto's Brookfield Asset Management recently established a $400 million Colombian infrastructure fund to invest in and help the Colombian people develop their infrastructure.
We must support these investments and work to increase the opportunities for and protection of Colombian workers.
I want to mention the geopolitical stability of the Andean region, which is under threat from the Chavez regime in Venezuela. It is important that we engage and not isolate Colombia at this time, as isolation would leave the Colombian people vulnerable to the effects of border closures and trade blockades and the ideologically motivated attacks of the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela.
It is important that we engage Colombia and the Colombian people as a partner in progress to help the Colombian people achieve a more peaceful and prosperous future. I believe this agreement, particularly with this amendment, will strengthen human rights engagement on an ongoing basis and ensure that this Parliament on an annual basis will receive a report on the human rights impact of this agreement, will help continue the debate, continue the engagement and strengthen human rights and labour rights in Colombia.
We have a responsibility in this Parliament to do the right thing, not to be purely focused on ideological issues and to be ideologically rigid but to do the right thing for both the people of Canada and the Colombian people.
Accordingly, I move:
|| That this question be now put.
Mr. Jean-Yves Laforest (Saint-Maurice—Champlain, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I want to say very clearly at the outset that the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-2, which the government tabled in the House today.
We do not like this bill any more than we liked it in the last session, despite the amendment, or the supposed amendment, that the Liberals are going to propose at the Standing Committee on International Trade. We fail to see how we could possibly be in favour of an amendment like that. It will leave the two parties involved in control and will mean that the governments of Canada and Colombia will be both judge and jury in evaluating respect for human rights. It does not make sense.
I am very familiar with the entire issue and with the previous positions of the Liberal Party, and I really cannot understand what they are doing now. Their previous position was to protect and respect human rights in Colombia. But now they have gone off in another direction.
Canada initiated discussions in 2002 with the Andean countries of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia about a possible free trade agreement.
Canada negotiated bilateral agreements with Colombia and Peru over the space of a few years. On June 7, 2008, Canada and Colombia announced they had completed their negotiations, and on November 21, they signed the free trade agreement.
We looked for the main reason why the Conservative government would sign this agreement regardless of the major objections that were raised.
We noted that the agreement does not really help trade. The trade issue is a red herring, because the agreement is actually about investment. It is obvious that an agreement like this is intended to promote investment.
It has a chapter on protecting investments that will make life easier for Canadian investors in Colombia, especially in the mining sector.
When it comes to trade, Colombia is only the fifth-largest market for Canadian exports to Latin America and the Caribbean and the seventh-largest source of Canadian imports from that region.
It is obvious that Canada has trading partners in this region that are a lot more important than Colombia. Concluding an agreement with Colombia, therefore, has absolutely nothing to do with the reasons always used to justify a free trade agreement. Far from it.
Canada’s trade with the other countries of Latin America has tended to increase over the last few years, meaning that the proportion of our trade with Colombia has fallen.
The bulk of Canadian investment in Colombia is, as I just mentioned, in the mining sector.
What use then is a free trade agreement? It does not make sense.
We have statistics on the amount of trade between Colombia and Canada. It is hard to understand why the Conservative government is so attached to this agreement. When two countries want to negotiate and sign a free trade agreement, it is usually because they are especially strong trading partners and the trade flows between them are particularly heavy.
When the value of trade is high, abolishing trade barriers becomes more interesting because it facilitates further trade.
Trade with the market we are talking about is limited. We do trade with Colombia, as with all countries, but we fail to see what kind of business benefits Quebec and Canada could find in this agreement. As I said before, this agreement is all about stimulating investments, and not so much about stimulating trade.
In the last few years, Canada signed investment protection agreements but the one that would bind Canada and Colombia has been ill conceived. All these agreements contain clauses that enable foreign investors to sue the local government if it takes measures that reduce the return on their investment. Foreign investments have been growing exponentially.
In order to create a predictable environment and ensure that a foreign investor does not end up losing his assets without compensation in the event of nationalization, for example, countries sign agreements to protect investments. This is perfectly normal and the Bloc Quebecois approves such agreements. In fact, the North American Free Trade Agreement includes a chapter on investment protection.
However, NAFTA's chapter 11 marked the beginning of a negative trend. The provisions were not well structured and were highly criticized. For example, as soon as some environment protection legislation affects the returns of a foreign investor, the government is open to massive lawsuits.
Still, over the years, the Government of Canada has signed a number of bilateral agreements modelled on NAFTA's chapter 11. There was so much criticism that even the Liberals, who just gave their support to an agreement that they condemned for many legitimate reasons, stopped signing such agreements.
Under the Conservatives, Ottawa is now on the offence and is negotiating all kinds of agreements like this one. In this case, the government is handing responsibility for deciding what is in the best interest of the people over to multinationals. They are giving up. They are saying that since such an agreement is good for investments, the multinationals can determine whether displacing thousands of people is acceptable.
The Bloc Québécois opposes the bill to implement the free trade agreement with Colombia because it contains clauses based on chapter 11 of NAFTA. Our party is asking the government to revert to the old treaty formula, which did not give multinationals control at the expense of the common good.
The bill will be referred to committee and we will see if it can be amended.
I would also like to talk about corporate social responsibility. In recent years, Colombia has had one of the worst records in terms of human rights and corporate social responsibility. Colombian exports tend to come from rural regions in the most remote parts of the country. These regions have valuable natural resources, but they are also the most violent regions.
Allowing these investments will only aggravate the problem.
Coming back to the rural regions I mentioned earlier, these regions have experienced 87% of all forced population displacements, 82% of all human rights and international humanitarian law abuses, and 83% of all union leader assassinations.
The measures allowed by the free trade agreement with Colombia will only make this situation even worse. The agreement will increase the presence of foreign investors, especially multinationals and mining companies.
I asked the minister a question a moment ago. We are not necessarily opposed to free trade agreements. There may be some very good free trade agreements, just as there may be bad ones. But we do not believe this one can be a good agreement in trade terms. The volume of trade is so low that we do not see how an agreement will change things. This agreement will encourage investment, however. Generally, when one country signs a free trade agreement with another country, the economies of the two countries are similar. The reason is very simple: measures to protect investment can slow the development of poorer countries because they give corporations the power to take the government to court if it makes laws or regulations that reduce the return on investments. If we look at the socio-economic data, it is readily apparent that Canada and Colombia are very different.
The fact that Colombia is a country where enormous poverty prevails cannot be ignored. In 2006, 47% of the population was living below the poverty line, and 12% of the population was living in abject poverty. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, poverty hits hardest in rural areas. In 2006, 68% of the population was living in poverty, and this is a serious problem. A government often has to adopt measures to get its country out of poverty and develop it. Such measures can take the form of labour, environmental or health legislation or nationalization of certain economic sectors. So this kind of protection for investments jeopardizes the ability of the Colombian government to effectively combat poverty. Essentially, the Government of Colombia has to continue fighting poverty, but with a chapter that provides for protecting foreign investments. This agreement ties its hands, and that will prevent it from making progress, even if it has good intentions to reduce violence in Colombia. In Colombia, there are still paramilitary groups that are not controlled by the government. In my view, it is unacceptable for a government or a democracy like Canada to sign an agreement like this. Colombia is a democratic country, but it is a democratic country that is unable to take action against human rights violations. Personally, I think it is a democracy that cannot be seen as having the same characteristics as other democracies on the planet.
Colombia has one of the worst track records in the world when it comes to human rights, and certainly the worst in Latin America. In order to improve the human rights situation in the world, governments often use the carrot and the stick. They support efforts toward greater respect for human rights and they reserve the right to withdraw certain benefits if there is backsliding. By signing this agreement, Canada will be giving up any ability to bring pressure to bear. Let us hope that some Liberal members will recall their earlier position. Canada will be giving up any means of bringing pressure to bear against a human rights situation that is unacceptable.
The Conservatives say over and over that the human rights situation in Colombia has greatly improved. It may be less catastrophic than it was a few years ago, but it is still very far from ideal.
Canada’s former ambassador to Colombia, Mathew Levin, said basically the same thing in speaking of the Colombian economy: “The [Canadian] government knows that the Colombian reality is not ideal. There is poverty, violence, lack of access to services”.
I want to provide just one statistic. Since 1986, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered. Although these murders declined somewhat after 2001, they have increased since 2007. According to Mariano José Guerra, the regional president of the National Federation of Public Sector Workers in Colombia, “thousands of people have disappeared and the persecution of unions continues”.
In view of all these facts, we cannot understand why the Conservative government is so intent on concluding this agreement. With all the population displacement we see, we wonder as well why the Liberal Party is very likely to support the agreement. That is totally unacceptable.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by identifying what this agreement and bill is not about. It is not about any real intentions of the government to push Canadian exports.
I just came back from Argentina. I was down there with FIPA. I asked the trade commissioners what the budget was for Canadian export supports for the market of Argentina. Argentina is a country of 40 million people. That is larger than Canada. The entire amount that the government is giving to export promotion supports, such as product promotion and service promotion, comes to a grand total of $400 a week. That is unbelievable. That is less than what an average corner store spends in my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster.
That is less than an east Montreal corner store spends.
But that is what the government is giving in export promotion support.
While we have trade commissioners having to pay for coffee of potential clients out of their own pockets, while we have $400 for the entire market of Argentina, our competitors like Australia, the United States, the European Union are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in export promotion support.
Therefore, the government is a government of trade dilettantes. It has absolutely no overall strategy to actually build export development. It does not invest in export development. To say that in some way this agreement is part of an overall strategy, when the government has failed so lamentably on the whole issue of export development, I think is to say the least disingenuous.
The other point that the Conservatives have been bringing up is why did the NDP not support the softwood sellout and why did the NDP not support the shipbuilding sellout? I would like to say to the members of the Conservative Party, it is because they negotiate bad agreements. It is as clear as that.
The softwood sellout, the shipbuilding sellout, and now this Colombian trade agreement either repudiates Canadian jobs or it repudiates Canadian values.
This is not about trade. It is about whether our foreign policy, our trade policy, should in some way be connected to fundamental Canadian values. The most fundamental Canadian value is human rights. That is something that Canadians share from coast to coast to coast.
The Conservatives have no interest in the human rights component. Liberals have abandoned any real attempt to build on human rights. If they were really concerned about human rights, they would have stuck with their support of the NDP motion to amend the trade committee report from two years ago that called for an independent and impartial human rights assessment. That was put forward by the committee.
Conservatives promptly backtracked, but Liberals under their former leader, to their credit, stuck to their guns and said that we should not move any further with negotiations with Colombia until we have an independent and impartial human rights assessment about what the potential impacts would be.
Just a few weeks after the report was issued, the government slapped the Liberals around and everyone else in the committee and said, “No. We're going to move forward with this agreement just the same”.
A year ago this week, the Conservatives brought this bad bill and this bad agreement forward to the House of Commons.
The NDP and the members of the Bloc Québécois are sticking to those fundamental Canadian values of human rights. We are not going to allow the Colombian government, given the egregious human rights violations that take place in Colombia, to get some kind of reward from the Canadian Parliament.
I certainly hope that Liberal members of Parliament, once they get a sense of the public reaction to this whitewashing, will share the view that they should go back to their original position under their former leader and stand up very clearly for human rights.
What is the human rights situation in Colombia? Over the last few years it has actually gotten worse, despite some of the comments we have heard from Conservatives and Liberals. Over the last three years the number of trade unionists killed in Colombia has tragically increased, not decreased. In fact, there was a 25% jump in 2008, maintained in 2009, and tragically we are seeing further murders this year.
Colombia is the most dangerous place to be a labour activist than anywhere else on earth. That is a reality.
Members of the Conservative Party and Liberal Party who want to push this bill forward have offered absolutely no proof that the bill and the treaty would actually improve human rights in Colombia. In fact, as I will get to later on, every single reputable human rights organization, every single independent union either in Colombia or Canada, has actually said the contrary. They have said that in a very real way, and a very dangerous way, the bill and the treaty with Colombia could worsen the human rights situation in Colombia.
There is the killing of trade unionists. What else? There are the hundreds and hundreds of the so-called false positives in Colombia over the last few years. Hundreds and hundreds of the so-called false positives is a banal term that masks a horrifying reality. These false positives are nothing less than cold-blooded murder of people in rural areas, aboriginal people and Afro-Colombians who were taken out and shot by the Colombian military.
It is important to note that a number of human rights organizations have cited the fact that in the Colombian military, there are bonuses offered for the killings of so-called guerrillas, which encourages the murder of innocent peasants and rural residents. Those hundreds and hundreds of false positives are a blight on the Colombian government and a blight on the human rights reputation of Colombia. If we pass this bill, we are essentially saying that we do not have fundamental concerns about the killing of trade unionists or these false positives by the Colombian military.
As horrific as those cold-blooded murders are, as horrific as all of that is, perhaps the most egregious aspect to the human rights situation in Colombia is the ongoing forced and violent displacement of millions of Colombians. It is the second worst situation of its sort in the entire planet, only rivaled by Sudan. In other words, the millions of Colombians who have been forcibly displaced by paramilitary groups often connected with the government, or guerrilla groups that oppose the government, are leading to the development of shantytowns throughout Colombia, particularly in Bogota.
When I was down in Colombia with the trade committee that looked at that, we went to Soacha. We met and spoke to those residents. They expressed real concerns about what is happening in rural Colombia. That has resulted in a concentration of land in rural Colombia that has intensified and it is now estimated that over 60% of agricultural land is in the hands of 0.6% of the population.
That forced displacement has led to a small number of landowners, drug traffickers and paramilitary organizations that are connected to the government taking over this rural land. The comptroller general of Colombia noted in his speech just a few years ago that drug traffickers and paramilitaries now own almost half the agricultural land in Colombia.
That is the reality. When we talk about human rights abuses, the fundamental reality is that as parliamentarians, we are obliged to consider when we look at something like a privileged trading relationship with President Uribe's regime. When we talk about the killing of trade unionists, we talk about killings by the Colombian military, the so-called false positives which are cold-blooded murder, we talk about the forced displacement by paramilitary groups connected to the government of millions of Colombians. We are not talking about some kind of state where human rights are improving, but rather we are talking about a human rights catastrophe.
That is the situation before us now in Colombia. It is not something that can be fixed by the whitewashing of reports. It is not something that can be fixed by having the Colombian government report on itself.
What is worse is the timing around what the government is bringing forward right now. It is an electoral period in Colombia. The issue of these so-called free trade agreements, and the Colombian state and human rights and democratic development in Colombia are being discussed to a certain extent by some Colombians. As the International Pre-electoral Observation Mission released in its report just a few days ago, at this critical time, it talked about the factors that impede free and fair elections in areas of Colombia. We are going into an electoral process. That is why the Colombian government is pushing this agreement, so that we Canadian parliamentarians can get involved in some way in this electoral process.
Reputable observers are saying there are factors that impede free and fair elections. The factors that they mention include widespread fear among the Colombian population and the fact that public moneys are being transferred for illicit uses in the election. They talk about negative practices such as vote buying and selling, misuse of identity documents, illegal possession of identity documents including stolen documents, coercion and intimidation of voters, fraud committed by polling officers at the polling station, obstruction of electoral observers, and control over public transportation to prevent voters from moving freely.
This is the situation right now. Instead of taking a step back, which the government should have done, to send observers so that in some way we could put pressure on the Colombian government to actually produce the free and fair elections that are being denied, the Conservatives with their Liberal allies are moving forward to reward the regime for what are clearly not going to be free and fair elections at this time.
The Conservatives and Liberals are working together to deny Colombians their democratic choice that will take place in a few weeks. Reputable observers are saying that these are the problems. Instead of putting pressure on the government, Liberals and Conservatives are saying, “Well, that is okay. We will try to get this deal through for you. Maybe that will help you in the election”.
It is so highly irresponsible, so highly inappropriate. I think Canadians in general can understand very clearly what is going on.
When we talk about the Uribe regime, the regime that is in power now, and given the impediments to a free and fair election in Colombia, presumably the government would be re-elected, we are talking about concerns that have been raised consistently about the Uribe government.
BBC News broke the story last year about the fact that a drug lord in prison in the U.S. said that he and his illegal paramilitary army funded the 2002 election campaign of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. This particular individual, Diego Murillo, also known as Don Berna, was the successor to drug lord Pablo Escobar. As we know from the history of President Uribe and the defence intelligence agency briefings back in the early 1990s, President Uribe was a close associate of Pablo Escobar. Don Berna is his successor and he says that he funded that campaign in 2002.
Now there are elections in 2010 that are impeded; there are obstacles to free and fair elections. Very clear concerns are being raised about violence, about coercion, intimidation and fraud. Instead of the Conservative and Liberal members of Parliament standing up and saying that they are going to consider seriously this issue and that they are going to apply pressure, they are giving a free pass, a reward.
As was reported in the Washington Post, Colombians found out that the secret police, run by the government, had spied on supreme court judges, opposition politicians, activists and journalists. Suspicion swirled that the orders for the wiretapping as well as general surveillance had come from the presidential palace. Those revelations have come on top of an influence-peddling scandal involving the president's two sons, Tomás and Geronimo, and a widening probe of the links between Uribe's allies in congress and right-wing paramilitary death squads. Also, there have been journalists in Colombia who have expressed concern about President Uribe's links from the very beginning with the drug trade.
When Conservatives stand in this House and say that they are opposed to the drug trade, to cocaine use and at the same time push, at this sensitive time, a trade agreement that is a privileged trading relationship with the Uribe administration, it strikes the very heart of hypocrisy.
The Conservatives cannot stand in the House and stay that they are against the drug trade, that they are against the Colombian drug cartels when they are rewarding a regime that has very clear connections and consistently over time has had personal association with the paramilitary organizations that are part of the drug trade. Yet that is what the Conservatives are pushing today in this House. They are pushing this at a sensitive time of elections when they should be stepping back and implementing an independent and impartial human rights assessment. They are trying to push forward. It is highly inappropriate and a complete repudiation of the basic Canadian values that Canadians hold dear.
There is no doubt that if Canadians were polled on this issue, they would overwhelmingly reject this agreement because they would be concerned about human rights. As people in the province of British Columbia, the “show me” province would say, the government has to show me that it has done due diligence. It has to show me an independent and impartial human rights assessment.
The Conservatives have not done it because they know darn well that the human rights assessment would show what report after report has shown.
Whether it is MiningWatch Canada, Inter Pares, Amnesty International, Peace Brigades, they have indicated in reports that it is inappropriate to move forward with this agreement. Briefing notes by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have said that it is inappropriate to move forward with this agreement.
Report after report after report, every single reputable report has said the same thing. Every single one of them has said that it is inappropriate to move forward with this agreement.
I will read from the executive summary of the last one I mentioned:
|| Trade can support development and the realization of human rights, if it brings benefits to vulnerable populations and allows states, who are willing, to promote developmental outcomes and protect the environment. But neither the political conditions in Colombia nor the terms of the Canada-Colombia FTA provide these reassurances. Indeed, while Canadians were promised that this agreement had been tailored to take account of human rights concerns, in fact the agreement turns out to be a standard “market-access” oriented trade deal, with ineffectual side agreements on labour and the environment. Colombian civil society and human rights organizations have been clear: they do not want this agreement.
Colombian civil society and human rights organizations have been clear: they do not want this agreement.
We could spend the next couple of weeks citing report after report after report, but what is very clear is that killer trade unionists pay a fine, that the reward for bad behaviour, that the complete refusal to have Canada in any way try to provide incentives for free and fair elections, all of these are repudiations of basic Canadian values.
In this corner of the House, NDP MPs stand for those Canadian values. We stand for those human rights. We stand for freedom of speech. We stand for labour rights. We believe that criminals should be prosecuted, not rewarded. That is why we will be voting no on Bill C-2.