Bill C-2: Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
House of Commons Debates
OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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.
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.
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