The House resumed from September 14 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.
Madam Speaker, many of my constituents have sent me letters and emails urging me to vote against the Colombia free trade bill before us today.
I have studied the bill and the current situation in Colombia, so I will have no problem doing as they ask because I feel the same way. I also had the opportunity to meet several Colombians, including refugees and unionists, who told me about the violence that prevails in their country and their complete opposition to Canada signing a trade agreement with the existing regime in Bogota. I would therefore invite my colleagues from all parties to oppose this bill for two main reasons.
First, the agreement will have a minimal effect on trade relations between Canada and Colombia. Colombia is just not one of Canada's more significant trading partners. As many members of the House have already said, the main reason that the Canadian government wants to sign this free trade agreement has nothing to do with trade and everything to do with investments. The chapter on investment protection is the real impetus behind this agreement. Canada-Colombia trade is a minor consideration, but current and projected Canadian investments are consequential, particularly in the mining sector.
I have no doubt that this draft agreement came about because special interests in that sector put pressure on the Canadian government. Judging by all of the investment protection agreements that Canada has signed over the years, this one with Colombia seems neo-liberal to the core. In fact, every previous agreement contains provisions allowing Canadian investors to sue the government of the signatory country in which they invest if that government passes measures that reduce their investment returns. Such provisions are particularly dangerous in a country where labour and environmental protection laws are arbitrary at best.
By protecting Canadian investors from requirements meant to improve standards of living in Colombia, this agreement could halt social and environmental progress in a country that desperately needs it. Any attempt the Colombian government might make to improve things would subject it to legal action by Canadian investors.
Second, Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and certainly in Latin America. To improve the human rights situation in the world, western governments, at least those that advocate for justice, generally use the carrot and stick approach. They support efforts to improve human rights and reserve the right to cut rewards if the situation worsens.
If this free trade agreement were signed, Canada would lose any chance of putting pressure on Colombia. In fact, not only would it give up the possibility of using the carrot and stick, but it would essentially hand them over to the Colombian government.
The government keeps telling us that the free trade agreement comes with side agreements on labour and the environment. But these agreements are notoriously ineffective and are not part of the free trade agreement, which means that some investors could destroy the Colombian environment, relocate populations to establish their mines, or continue to have anyone who opposes their project, in particular union members, killed, all with impunity. Since 1986, 2,690 union members have been killed in Colombia.
And we can unfortunately not count on the Colombian authorities to improve the situation.
The Colombian branch of the international organization Transparency International published a report last summer on corruption in Colombia. According to the report, which was the result of a project funded by the British and Dutch governments, only 4 of the 138 state entities in Colombia have a low level of corruption. It is a very detailed report that offers further explanation.
One of the organizations that the study found to have a very high level of corruption was the Colombian Congress itself. According to the report, the Ministry of the Interior and Justice has a high level of corruption.
Anyone who can read Spanish can view the detailed report on the Internet.
The Bloc Québécois is against trading away the Canadian government's ability to press for human rights to provide Canadian corporations with foreign investment opportunities.
Colombian civil society also opposes this agreement. However, because of the repression that exists there, it is harder for Colombian civil society to really get organized and have its say. But on February 11, 2009, four of my colleagues, the hon. members for , , and , as well as Paul Crête, met with the Coalition of Social Movements and Organizations of Colombia, or COMOSOC. That meeting was organized by the CCIC. I would remind the House that COMOSOC is made up of the National Organization of Indigenous People in Colombia, the Popular Women’s Organization, the National Agrarian Coordinator, Christians for Peace with Justice and Dignity, the National Movement for Health and Social Security, the Afro-Colombian National Movement, and so on.
The COMOSOC delegation wanted to refute the claims made by the Colombian government and the Canadian government: the human rights situation in Colombia has not improved. Many organizations in Quebec and in Canada have spoken out against this agreement, including the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, the Catholic organization Development and Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Lawyers Without Borders, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the National Union of Public and General Employees.
As we can see, many people oppose this plan. Once again, I invite all members of the House to vote against this bill.
Madam Speaker, as a member of the international trade committee, I had an opportunity to be in Colombia and meet with the president, as well as some of his other cabinet colleagues. I must say that I am very impressed by the number of witnesses who we were able to hear from and the challenges that country has had to undergo in the last number of years.
Our friends across the aisle talk about the violence and what goes on there. There is no question that country has had its share of challenges, but it is my profound belief that if we do not give it an opportunity to trade with this free trade agreement, we are going to limit the kinds of opportunities that country has moving forward.
I know my friends across the aisle like to comment on all the violence and crimes, and they refer to numbers in 2008-09. What they fail to recognize and acknowledge is that under this president, since 2002 more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters have returned to civilian life. Since 2002, homicides have declined by 40%, kidnappings by 82% and terrorist attacks by 77%.
I would say to my friends across the way that if they are going to quote numbers, let us talk about the historical context. Let us talk about the time since President Uribe has been in government. Let us talk about the time that he has had since 2002.
Does Colombia have challenges? There is no question it does, but I believe that free trade is one of the ways to help Colombia emerge as a stronger country. I also believe that Canada and the leadership that it is playing, because of its rich and diverse connections to that country and to the hemisphere, have made this possible. I realize that Canada has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be active in this hemisphere, and there are critical and important issues to all countries in this region.
I would like to highlight today the key features of our Americas engagement, which reinforces Canada's commitment to deepening its participation in the region. Clearly, as the region addresses the worldwide economic downturn, it is timely to assess how we are all acting and co-operating in bringing solutions.
We have evolved together in this region in the past to address a range of problems, from endemic poverty and inequalities to bolster common security and economic development. Canada has longstanding, rich and diverse connections to countries of the Americas. We have been forging privileged partnerships and commercial ties with the region as a whole for over 100 years, producing results that have been mutually beneficial.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported last year that Canada has become the third largest investor in the region. Foreign direct investment from Canada into the Americas, excluding Mexico and Bermuda, now stands at approximately $95 billion. To put that number into perspective, that is about three times the size of Canadian investment in Asia.
While this covers a multitude of sectors, investments in financial services and extractive sectors have been notable. Canadian banks, with a long presence in the Caribbean, now bring stability and much needed credit throughout the Americas. Canadian mining and exploration companies are also on the leading edge of the application of the best practices of corporate social responsibility.
At a time when investment from outside the region is not always as scrupulous in attending to questions such as labour standards or community services and engagement, we are proud that Canadian companies serve as standard bearers to this region.
Up until the recent economic downturn, our commercial relations had been on a steep growth curve. Our trade with the region in 2008 grew by almost 30%. This is due to a combination of factors, including strong demand for Canadian offerings and our competitive price points, but I believe that the strong message that our government has been sending on the importance of bolstering free trade and open markets has played a key role.
Certainly, we have been among the most active free trader in the region. We are building our successful free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and a recent free trade agreement with Peru, which entered into force on August 1, 2009.
In 2008, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Colombia and it is now before us for ratification. Canada and Panama also concluded negotiations on August 11, 2009. We have ongoing negotiations with the Dominican Republic, CARICOM and Central American countries.
As for the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and its parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, it is part of a suite of instruments Canada uses in its engagement with Colombia. These instruments include bilateral and development co-operation, and the Department of Foreign Affairs global peace and security fund. All of these support Colombia's ongoing efforts toward greater peace, security, prosperity and full respect for human rights.
In the past five years, the Canadian International Development Agency has disbursed over $64 million alone in Colombia. CIDA's programming in that country is focused on children's rights and their protection while supporting initiatives that protect internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations.
I will say that while we were in Colombia, we had a chance to see first-hand some of the great work that CIDA is doing with those projects.
As a country of the Americas, Canada has a vested interest in the progress of countries in the Americas. Our economic success, our profound belief in democracy and the rule of law, and the national and personal security of our citizens, both within and beyond our borders, are all intricately linked with the welfare of our hemispheric neighbours. This recognition is at the core of Canada's engagement in the Americas.
As a committed member of the inter-American system, Canada has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be active on hemispheric issues of critical importance to all countries in the region. Our engagement in the Americas is focusing Canada's efforts on three interrelated and mutually reinforcing objectives: enhancing the prosperity of the citizens in the region; strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance throughout the Americas; and building a safe and secure hemisphere.
I will briefly summarize each of these points, beginning with prosperity.
To say the least, prosperity has become more elusive of late for all countries in all hemispheres. Canada is faring better than most countries but Canadians have not been spared from the wretched impacts of the worldwide recession. Despite continued economic uncertainty, most countries in the Americas are arguably better prepared than in the past to weather the global downturn. Since the 1990s, many have worked hard to improve their debt situations. They now have lower total debt ratios, reduced interest rates and increased debt service requirements. In fact, many of these countries enjoy fiscal surpluses.
Thanks to these efforts, many countries will be in a better position to rebound when better days return, and they will if the lure of short-term measures, whether populous or protectionist, can be resisted. In this regard, there does exist a risk that the blame for current market failure will be unfairly attributed to capitalism rather than to the specific capitalists who, in the absence of adequate supervision, contributed to this outcome.
In the region, one can detect the return of antiquated views, favouring import substitution and rejecting globalization. This must be resisted. Realistic solutions need to be identified and addressed.
Finally, we need to resist protectionism in every sense, and here I refer not only to tariff protectionism but also the impact of spending measures and rescue bailouts. Evidently, these must be managed in a way that does not damage market participation in the region.
On security, these effects on the economic crisis cannot be viewed in isolation. They have a clear and identifiable impact on security and governance in the region.
The medium-term implications on reduced remittances, returning migrants, rising unemployment and falling government revenues. Some might call that a perfect storm. What we see is a clear reason to increase our engagement in addressing security problems in the Americas.
As a result, Canada is assisting countries in the region in their efforts to strengthen their law enforcement, judicial system, disaster relief for preparedness and health issues. Working together, we are confident we can reduce the impact of crime, drugs, terrorism, disasters and pandemics on Canadians and citizens of the Americas.
In this vein, DFAIT's global peace and security program has developed over $14.5 million in conflict prevention and peace-building programs in Colombia between 2006 and 2009. This program focuses on truth, justice and confidence-building initiatives, supports political dialogue and enhances security and stability.
I believe there is every reason for optimism, the current economic climate notwithstanding. By pursuing this model of partnership, I have no doubt that together we can strengthen hemispheric co-operation in support of peace, security and development, and produce long-term results that will benefit us all.
For those reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of this agreement.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to participate in the debate. For purposes of clarity for those who are watching these proceedings on television, we are not actually debating the agreement, the proposal by the minister to send the bill to committee. We are actually debating a subamendment of an amendment. Both the subamendment and the amendment to the motion suggest that the House should not give second reading because the government concluded this agreement while the Standing Committee on International Trade was considering the matter. I will try to understand the position of the Bloc and the New Democratic Party. The subcommittee on international trade was considering this question and, therefore, we should not send the agreement to committee because the committee was already considering the question.
You are looking at me a little confused, Madam Speaker, and I can understand why that is the case. The reason is that it does not make any sense. What we need to recognize is that there are serious issues about this agreement and there are legitimate areas of concern and debate. There is no question that a public hearing and a public discussion with expert witnesses and a reasoned discussion at committee is fully warranted.
In order to anticipate some of the questions, which I know I will get from some members of the House, a recent exchange between the member for and my colleague from was to say that there have been hundreds of killings. We can all argue about the numbers but the question was whether we support the killing of trade unionists in Colombia. The answer to that question is, of course not. The killing of anyone is horrendous. The killing of people who are exercising their democratic rights is an appalling situation.
The question before the House and the question that I personally hope will get to committee at some stage is whether a free trade agreement would contribute to an improvement in the overall human rights and economic situation in Colombia or whether it would cause a deterioration and a worsening of the human rights condition in that country. That is a factual question. There will be lots of debate about it but it is not an ideological question.
To suggest, as was suggested by my colleague from the Bloc in his speech, that Canadian companies are in the business of sanctioning the killing of trade unionists or to suggest that anyone in the House looks with favour upon people living in dangerous and difficult conditions simply shows how quickly we assume the worst motivations on all sides of the House. I have been at this coal face too long to make any such assumption. I assume that everyone here believes that killing other people is a bad thing. I believe very strongly that we are all committed to human rights and the extension of human rights. I will not accuse someone who is in favour of a free trade agreement of being opposed to human rights and being in favour of assassinations. That is just an absurdity. It takes the debate to a level where it is absolutely to have a reasonable and serious discussion.
I will go back to the fundamental question. The government of Colombia decided some time ago that it would try to create an economic strategy that would allow it to get out of the situation in which it found itself. It is a country whose market internally is not big enough. Unlike its neighbour, Venezuela, it cannot rely on the oil and gas reserves that it has in order to generate a huge income for itself. It does not have the luxury of protectionism and, therefore, it was essential for it to engage with the rest of the world economically. This was all part of the strategy that does not simply start with President Uribe but certainly was one that he had a great deal to do with extending.
It is important for members to understand that we are not the only country with which Colombia has either succeeded in concluding a free trade agreement or is currently negotiating a free trade agreement. The member countries of the European Union, the member countries of the European Free Trade Association, which are all democratic countries, which are all countries with a vibrant trade union movement, which are all countries that have a powerful commitment to human rights, countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Britain, France and Germany, are currently negotiating a freer trade arrangement with Colombia. So, of course is the United States of America. Colombia has already concluded free trade agreements with its neighbouring Andean countries.
So, the suggestion that this is some sort of conspiracy that is under way to undermine human rights organizations or to undermine the labour movement in Colombia is not simply far-fetched, it is also a question, frankly, that just does not stand up to real analysis.
Now, there are parties in this House that are ideologically opposed to any free trade agreement that comes before us. If it comes before us with EFTA, they are opposed to the one with EFTA. When we come to discuss the question of the EU, I can guarantee they will be opposed to the one with the European Union.
Those of us who do not have these ideological blinkers on have to look practically at this question. There is a very legitimate concern that has been raised and that will be raised again which is what exactly the impact of this kind of an agreement is going to be on the human rights situation in Colombia.
First, let me just make it clear how I think we need to look at this question.
We are trading today with Colombia. That is to say Canadian companies are doing business in Colombia. It is perfectly legal. It is there. It is happening. There is nothing bad about that, unless it is being suggested by some people that there should be no trade whatsoever with Colombia, that there should be no economic relationship with Colombia and that the rest of the world should boycott Colombia and there should be an international freeze on any investment, any trade, any economic relationship with Colombia. If that is the position that is being put forward by some of my colleagues in the House, I would like to hear them suggest it. I would like to hear them analyze it. However, the fact of the matter is we are trading today. As a country, our businesses are trading with Colombian businesses, and Colombian businesses are trading with us. There are cut flowers in our market. All these things are taking place.
The question then becomes whether we want to try to create a set of rules that will provide for greater certainty with respect to the trading relationship that we are establishing.
Personally, I am a multilateralist at heart. I favour broader multilateral agreements. I would like to see nothing better than for the Doha round to be reignited and to proceed again and for us to try to create a stronger rules-based system for how we trade in the world.
We support the World Trade Organization. I do not hear suggestions from the Bloc or from the NDP that we pull out of the World Trade Organization or that we ask that Colombia be kicked out of the World Trade Organization of which Colombia is currently a member.
So, let us try to understand. Is there a mutual benefit to our two countries to expanding trade? Is there a mutual benefit to our two countries in continuing to monitor and to talk about and to discuss and to try to influence in two sovereign independent countries the human rights situation, in their country and, frankly, in our country?
Is there a good reason why we, as Canadians, want to have a relationship that provides greater guarantee of the security required for investment? Is it a good idea for us to give Colombian companies the opportunity to increase their exports to Canada? There is a great deal of poverty in Colombia and it needs economic development. So, we do want this.
I would say let this matter go when the debate is concluded, whenever that may be. My view is this is a trade agreement that should go to committee. It should be thoroughly studied. Let the international trade committee resume the study that it was doing with respect to the agreement, and let it proceed. I think it would be wrong of us to take a decision today to say that, no, we are not going to let that happen, that we are not even going to consider this question because a group of people say they know better and they know what the outcome is better than anyone else.
I am not sure I have possession of all the facts that would allow me to reach that conclusion, and I simply want this matter to proceed to committee at the appropriate time.
Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I speak to the issue of corporate social responsibility today as it relates to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
I agree completely with the Liberal foreign affairs critic when he says that there are those of us who support this agreement. I also agree with his statement that NDP members are talking nonsense when they say that by supporting this agreement we are condoning murder or human rights abuses or the violence that is taking place in Colombia. That is totally misleading and is fearmongering by the NDP, done by the NDP to support the position they always take, which is against this free trade agreement.
Why do they not just say they oppose it because of their ideology? To say that this is directly related to violence is absolutely nonsense. I want to make it very clear that is not the position here.
Today I am standing up to talk about the corporate social responsibility that Canadian companies undergo when they go overseas to do business. The free trade agreement with Colombia would allow a lot of Canadian companies to go there, so social corporate responsibility becomes a key element in the operation of Canadian companies and what Canadians have come to accept.
The Government of Canada undertook a very lengthy in-depth analysis of corporate social responsibility with stakeholders in Canada, with all those involved in corporate social responsibilities, including NGOs, government people, and industrial people. We came up with a voluntary code of conduct which the government has now provided to Parliament in response. This extensive corporate social responsibility analysis done by the Government of Canada and all Canadian stakeholders has laid the foundation for what is expected of Canadian companies when they are in other countries.
I was in Tanzania in April of this year as well as in Zambia where Canadian companies are working. I had the pleasure of talking to the companies to see what they were doing as part of their corporate social responsibility. I was very impressed at the amount of effort Canadian companies are putting toward corporate social responsibilities such as providing fresh water, schools, and little dispensaries which the local government cannot provide. These Canadian companies are providing these basic services on a voluntary basis and giving hope to many.
Canadians should be proud of many of these companies. The majority of companies that operate overseas do a fantastic job with respect to corporate social responsibility. That is why Canadian companies and Canadians in general have such a high reputation around the world.
This is something the NDP should go and see. Those members would never go to countries where progress has taken place. They will always choose countries that are mired in violence and come forward with their ideology to oppose the free trade agreement.
As a result of the in-depth consultation that took place, the Government of Canada will soon be creating a new consular office to help resolve any issue that could arise between Canadian companies and the communities in which they operate. An announcement will be made very shortly. This is one way of ensuring that everyone will voluntarily comply with what is expected, which has come out of the round table conference. The government has taken this strong, positive step to ensure that all stakeholders adhere to the recommendations regarding corporate social responsibility.
The Government of Canada is also going to support a new centre of excellence. This centre of excellence should be outside of the government to develop high quality tools for corporate social responsibility to see what our best practice is. This is a joint venture with the stakeholders. These are some of the positive steps that this government is taking arising out of the consultation process, which is the right way to do things when we talk about this.
This brings me to the question of looking at what the government's approach has been in talking to stakeholders. We have a Liberal member's private member's bill, Bill , which is now before the committee and which has been hastily prepared without stakeholders' input into it. It was badly drafted and would penalize Canadian companies doing business overseas. The bill is one of those bills that has been emotionally created without input from company stakeholders. It just follows an emotional outburst.
This is not how a minority Parliament should work. I would be very much interested to hear the stance of the Liberal trade critic, whose speech I read, and the Liberal foreign affairs critic, who just spoke about how free trade agreements have a potential of helping in this country, on Bill . This is contrary to what they have been talking about. I hope that common sense prevails on the other side and that when it comes before the committee they will kill this bill. This bill has the potential of damaging the great reputations of people doing business overseas.
The intention is good. We all want corporate social responsibility to take place, but the way it was brought forward, the way it was drafted and the way it has lacked consultations and been coached is just using the minority status to push through something that would have serious consequences for Canadian companies, NGOs and everybody else. There is a small minority of NGOs who are supporting this, but I think that overall, under this major exercise that the Government of Canada undertook last year on corporate social responsibility, that is the way the government should be working. That is how we should work on this thing.
I am very happy to state that the Government of Canada is taking corporate social responsibility very seriously. As I have just said, we will be making announcements about our new councillor as well as the centre for excellence. It must be recognized that the free trade agreement, with its side agreements on labour as well as the environment and other issues, will ensure that there is a rules-based system in our dealings with Colombia.
That is what every Canadian wants because that would ensure strong ties between Canada and Colombia. At the same time, we can engage with Colombia on issues of human rights and others.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , which is the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.
I want to set the frame for my own involvement in this debate by saying that this was a difficult bill for me at first. I have met with delegations from Colombia and union organizers here who have expressed concerns about the human rights in that country. I take that seriously.
Colombia is a violent country. There are many instances of corruption and human rights violations, which is consistent with a narco-economy. It is indisputable that there is instability in Colombia and there have been human rights violations. It is also indisputable that there have been improvements economically, socially, and in terms of safety, so we balance off those two different issues.
The question for the people of that country is: How will things get better? Is the move more negative or positive for countries like Canada to engage Colombia? Of course, we have heard Canada is not alone. Many other countries are doing the same thing, looking at trade agreements with this country.
As members of Parliament, balance is something we deal with all the time on issues. We balance local concerns with national concerns. We are always looking at what our constituents want with what we consider to be the national interest. Also, the party under whose banner we were elected plays a role as well.
We balance the time that we spend on constituency work with the time we spend on national issues or perhaps party responsibilities, being a minister, a critic or work on committees. One of the difficult things about politics is finding the right balance.
On issues, quite often, it is a matter of finding a balance as well. We deal with issues that challenge us. There are pros and cons on both sides of an issue. How do we work within Parliament and even within our own parties to move the ball on things and to advance not only Canadian interests but the interests of people with whom we deal?
I want to pay tribute and offer my thanks to the Liberal critic for international trade. On a number of issues, he and I have had very serious discussions about concerns I have had and maybe issues on which we differed in the beginning. It is through working with him and the leadership that he has provided the Liberal caucus that we have been able to come up with solutions that make sense.
There have been a number of contentious issues on the trade front. The EFTA deal was one. It was difficult for me, my colleague from , and those of us who have been actively supporting the shipbuilding industry with the negligence that has been shown by the government. A potential negative impact in the EFTA deal was its impact on Canadian shipbuilding. This Colombian deal is difficult because of the human rights violations, the allegations but certainly the violations of human rights that have happened in Colombia.
On EFTA, the Liberal critic, the member for , the member for , the critic for industry, the member for and I worked on this issue. How do we know what the right thing is? We are concerned about the impact on shipbuilding with EFTA.
Our critic sat down with us and we asked what the real problem was? The real problem for shipbuilding is that there is no national strategy for shipbuilding and that is what Canada needs. That, above all else, is what we need. That is why a country like Norway, which was the concern in the EFTA deal, has supported, advanced and consistently invested in the shipbuilding industry. It has gotten to a point now where it presents a bit of an issue for us.
My colleague from , our industry critic, our free trade critic and I went to see our leader. He said, absolutely, he would commit the Liberal Party to having a national strategy on shipbuilding, that we would look at things like tariffs, the structured financing facility, those things that will make a difference to shipbuilding.
In the summer, just after the House adjourned in June, the four of us met with representatives of the shipbuilding industry, with companies, shipbuilding associations and workers. We came to an agreement that there were certain things we could do to advance shipbuilding, to make sure that everything is taken care of, that workers, management and shipbuilding associations can come together on a shipbuilding strategy that a Liberal government would facilitate, would lead, and that would make sure that shipbuilding retains its rightful place in the industrial structure of Canada.
On this deal, our critic and I had some discussions. Our critic for international trade and our critic for foreign affairs worked diligently on this file. They met with many Colombian stakeholders. They went down to Colombia, not with blinkers on but to study what is happening in that country. They met with trade representatives, think-tanks, unions, with President Uribe himself and with the UN High Commission and human rights representative in that country, to find out whether this deal would help or hurt.
Through all that work and the leadership that was shown by our critics on this file, I believe this free trade agreement can improve conditions in Colombia, conditions that have to some extent improved already, as the members for , and others have pointed out.
We know we need to be vigilant. We know there is much work that has to be done. We know there are people who have been killed, people from labour unions, labour organizers and many others. The question is, how do we have a positive impact on that? How do we make sure that what we are doing is right, not only for ourselves but for other people with whom we share this world?
Many of the progressive forces in Colombia in fact look to Canada to assist and they believe this deal can actually enable them to make things better for the citizens of that country, to improve the lives of people who struggle in that country. They consulted extensively and with an open mind.
As we have heard as well, we are not the only progressive country in the world. Many of the countries with whom we do business, to whom we compare ourselves on human rights, labour conditions, fair wages and international development, are also negotiating with Colombia. Of course, in the United States, the Obama administration has signalled that it is perhaps readier to move now on this than it had been before, that this is important to the people of that country as well as the people of Colombia. So we have similar goals.
Generally, as a Liberal, I support freer trade. Among the organizations that are supporting this deal, I see Canada Pork International and the Cattlemen's Association. There are organizations in this country that, as my colleague from has pointed out, need help. He called for an emergency debate earlier today on agriculture. These are organizations that can benefit as well.
We should be supporting freer trade. That is what we do as Liberals, but we always want to make sure that we see the whole picture and that we are not ignoring things that are going on in a country with which we choose to do business. We think, though, this deal can have a positive impact in reducing human rights abuses and helping to build and strengthen the social infrastructure in that country, strengthen the social foundations and actually make things better for the people who are suffering now.
At the end of the day, when we look at any kind of free trade bills, there are some in this House who will always oppose them. Perhaps there are some who always support them. I think it is important that we look at every bill, at the global picture as well as the national picture. We have to look at the people we are dealing with as well as the people in this country. We have to make sure that we are doing things for the right reasons, that we are protecting citizens wherever they live in this world, not just to the benefit of ourselves.
To support Canadian industry is not a bad thing. To support industry in other nations is not a bad thing. On balance and from the discussions we had, I have come to the very firm conclusion that this bill needs to go forward and it needs to go forward quickly.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague from Sidney Crosby's riding.
On a more serious note, I want to ask the member if he really believes that a country, a government, and dare I say, a regime that has significant numbers of documented deaths of trade unionists and other social activists should now try to sort out who should benefit from the domestic economy of that jurisdiction.
My colleague, the member for , mentioned earlier that while his colleagues were in Colombia, 600 people were slaughtered, connected to the government of that country.
Given the leadership of that country, given its track record so far in distributing the already limited wealth that the country generates, if we enter into a trade agreement that would actually give it even more money, do we think somehow it would distribute that more equitably?
Just last spring we had Yessika Hoyos Morales, the daughter of one of the trade unionists who was killed in Colombia, speak to us. Perhaps the member met with her as well. She asked us not to do this until we did the assessment, the analysis, until we are guaranteed and are sure that people will not continue to be killed, and perhaps in larger numbers as the pot becomes bigger, as the gold becomes more shiny for those who are in charge in that country, if that in fact will not be the record that we will be looking at as we reassess this in, say, five or ten years if we go ahead with this today.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I am glad to be able to join in this debate. It is a debate that says a lot about where we are going as a country, and frankly, this is not the direction that I believe most our constituents would want to be going in or supporting.
I know my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster has been quite active in his criticism of the many free trade agreements that the government has been pursuing, and rightly so. He has engaged a great many Canadians on this front. He can tell members that the response he has received from everyday Canadians is nothing like proponents of this deal would hope to see. It is a tidal wave of disapproval.
Although most Canadians are not concerned with the ins and outs of trade policy right now, due to being preoccupied with the economic crisis, when they are it is usually because of problems such as we have seen with our dysfunctional softwood lumber agreement and not trade with deals flying under the radar.
The problem with these kinds of agreements is that most people only become involved in the debate when it comes time to pick up the pieces, not when the nuts and bolts are being hammered out. They notice when a workplace closes because of our pursuit of a level playing field. They notice when they see the real incomes of the average family in decline as we compete with labour forces that are in disarray and at the mercy of corporate elite.
Trade unionists are watching this debate. They are aware that Colombia has one of the most dismal records for human rights in the western hemisphere. They know Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists. They are asking us to step back from this agreement, yet we are not seeing that from the Conservatives and the Liberals.
Just last spring the United Steelworkers came to this place to try to get the members of the Liberal Party to recognize that the bad in this agreement far outweighs any good, to try to get them to recognize that President Uribe and paramilitary groups are trampling on the human rights of workers in Colombia.
They pointed out a side agreement that has a mechanism to invoke fines for the murder of trade unionists in Colombia. It is an occurrence that is that common.
They are asking the Liberal members to live up to the commitment they made in June 2008, which is what I mentioned a few minutes ago, that there be an independent, impartial and comprehensive human rights impact assessment before Canada considers an agreement with Colombia. Still the government, with the support of the Liberals, wants to fast-track this agreement.
In the United States, a change of leadership has led to a change in thinking about this type of agreement. It is seen as a George Bush style of approach to trade. We saw Congress put a hold on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement last year, and President Barack Obama has said he will not pursue the agreement because of the human rights abuses.
That is a rare and candid admission from a country that is arguably the biggest proponent of free trade agreements. There, the thinking is changing, finally. They would like to see their trade partners make the necessary changes to protect human rights and the rights of trade unionists before they sign preferred trade partner agreements. That is exactly what the Bloc and the NDP are asking for.
They seem to be moving away from the belief that trade agreements are a panacea for the socio-economic woes of a country that will somehow cure all human rights abuses, end poverty, and protect the environment with the stroke of a pen. They are starting to reject the trickle-down model of economic and social development of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and seem to be viewing trade deals as a reward for good behaviour.
The truth is that the United States is also becoming more protectionist about trade in general. We saw how the procurement policies for state government stimulus spending flew through loopholes in the North American Free Trade Agreement. That deal took much longer to hammer out than the one we are debating today and still has loopholes enough to leave Canada high and dry, time and time again.
Just ask our steel producers. They will tell you. Or better yet, come to my constituency and discuss Canada's miserable softwood lumber agreement with the United States. One would get a sobering picture of the real effect of bad trade agreements. One would see the real effect on communities, the uncertainty of mill closures and the migration of workers away from their roots and families.
If we go to towns like White River, Smooth Rock Falls, Opasatika, Hearst, Nairn Centre or Dubreuilville, we see how the people fear for the future of their community. It is the same all across northern Ontario. People feel betrayed by successive Liberal and Conservative governments that talk about the benefits of unbridled free trade, but only ever deliver the worst effects of the agreements on their communities.
We see loopholes that devastate our communities. The black liquor subsidy in the pulp and paper industry is a good example of this. Many companies in the United States have always used this byproduct of the pulp and paper making process as a fuel source. Now they are taking advantage of an American incentive to promote the use of alternative energy and are adding some gasoline to this mix. The end result is that by burning more gasoline than they were previously, they are now eligible for massive subsidies that certainly put a tilt in the playing field.
By the time the government recognized the severity of the subsidy and responded to this crisis, it was too late for some. The truth is it should not have been necessary if only our trade agreements had worked as we had been told they would, but they did not and they do not. How will this bill be any different? It has more to do with investment opportunities for the privileged than it does with anything remotely approaching fair trade. It will legitimize a brutal regime and death squads in a country were 27 trade unionists have been murdered this year alone. It will exacerbate Colombia's poverty, which is directly linked to agricultural development.
In Colombia 22% of employment is agricultural. An end to tariffs on Canadian cereals, pork and beef will flood the market with cheap products and lead to thousands of lost jobs among the poorest Colombians. It will be the exact opposite of the fair trade deals in which we would like to see Canada enter.
What do we mean when we speak about fair trade? We mean new trade rules and agreements that promote the sustainable practices, domestic job creation and healthy working conditions, while allowing us to manage the supply of goods, promote democratic rights abroad and maintain democratic sovereignty at home. It all sounds very civilized. I think this is a model of trade that most Canadians can stand behind.
Fair trade is more environmentally sustainable. We know that given the choice, people will choose that every time. Fair trade policies protect the environment by encouraging the use of domestically and locally produced goods, less freight, less fuel, less carbon and promote environmentally conscious methods for producers who ship to Canada.
Free trade policies are just the opposite. Even those created with the environment in mind do little to stop multinational corporations from polluting. The environmental side agreement of NAFTA, for example, has proven largely unenforceable, particularly when compared with other protections for industry and investors.
Fair trade would encourage the growth of Canadian jobs. We would see more jobs and better jobs. Fair competition rules and tougher labour standards would put Canadian industries on a truly level playing field with our trading partners and slow the international race to the bottom that has resulted in the loss of Canadian manufacturing jobs. We are not adverse to competition. We are confident we can compete under fair trade regulations.
Free trade rules, on the other hand, have hurt Canadian job quality. Since 1989, most Canadian families have seen a decline in real incomes. That is 20 years of hurt. We warned about it then and we are telling everyone about it now. We are trying to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Fair trade would protect labour rights by fostering the growth of workers' co-operatives and labour unions. Fair trade policies, which favour co-ops, unions and equitable pricing, will protect workers in the developing world who might otherwise be exploited. As we see in Colombia, workers are being exploited, or worse.
Fair trade would take away reasons for Canadian producers to export jobs. They would have to operate under the same rules as they do in Canada. There would be no significant difference for those who choose to produce offshore.
This is why we cannot support this free trade agreement—
Madam Speaker, today we discuss a matter that not only involves Canada's economic and trade policy with Colombia, but is also a general statement of our general orientation of our general foreign policy.
This government has looked out to the world. We are not a government whose foreign policy is inward looking. We are a government that wants to engage and to reach out, to follow-up on the proud Canadian history of reaching out to the entire world. This is entirely appropriate since Canada is made up of individuals and families. Our history comes from all over the world. The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is very much a part of that history. It is part of our government's willingness to engage and to reach out.
Under this government, Canada has become, and will continue into the future to be, a large player on the international stage. We do not do that by just reaching out to the high profile missions around the world such as Afghanistan and some of the UN peacekeeping missions. We do that by engaging the entire world, including places such as Latin America, Colombia, Peru, Panama, places where we are reaching out to engage in free trade, to engage with these countries to build Canada's economy, to build their economy, to build closer ties on an economic and cultural basis.
It is entirely appropriate that this government and all Canadian governments continue to build on free trade agreements and to engage in free trade throughout the world.
Canada's history is fundamentally that of a trading nation. We think of the schooners, like the Bluenose from Nova Scotia, that traded with the Caribbean, along the coasts of the Americas and my region of western Canada, the grain basket of the continent. We reach out and we trade with the whole world.
Canadian wheat is well known around the world as are our lumber and our mineral exports. The whole reason that Canada was settled had to do with trade, the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company, the courier du bois, the northwesterners. We are a country that was fundamentally built on trade.
To continue our success, to continue our history of prosperity, we need to continue that history of trade. We need to continue that pattern. We need to continue it wherever we go in the world.
When we look at the fundamentals of the trade deal with Colombia, we see opportunities for Canada. Again, concentrating on my region, we can look at some of the agriculture products for which Colombia is looking to Canada. Saskatchewan pulse growers have been very successful marketing to Colombia and they are looking forward to greater success.
One of the things that Colombians are most looking for and reaching out to Canada for is our agriculture technology for its pork industry, which it is looking to expand. Colombia is reaching out for Canada's agriculture technology for its beef and cattle producers. It is looking to have secure Canadian breeding and technology to expand its industries.
We look at the opportunities for Canadian natural resource producers, and not only the mining companies that go there, extract the minerals and bring the profits to Canada after putting in resources, investment and creating jobs down there.
We are also looking to take our natural gas and oil technology to Colombia because Canada has some of the greatest technology in the whole world.
This agreement is not only fundamentally good for Canada, but it is fundamentally good for Colombia. Free trade in and of itself is good everywhere, all the time. It has been an economic principle established throughout history.
As Europe and the broader world began to pull back from mercantilism and progressed onward to capitalism and free trade, we saw the unprecedented growth of prosperity. The industrial revolution was allowed to flourish.
Colombia is looking forward to expanding its exports to Canada. While currently Colombia concentrates on such products as coal and fresh cut flowers, and we all know about Colombian coffee, there are many other areas where the Colombian government and the Colombian people and businesses are looking forward to expanding.
Colombians are particularly looking forward to Canadian investment. They are looking to expand their biofuel industry and other industries that require the ingenuity and technology from other countries. Colombia is looking to do this because it desires a better economy, a better society for its people.
Some members of the House have been criticizing the agreement because of what it will do to the Colombian people, but they should look at some of the elements of the agreement. Colombia has to demonstrate to Canada and improve in certain areas, and there are agreements within the agreement on free association, collective bargaining, labour and labour rights, important things to help raise the standards for the Colombian people.
It should be stated these are not things that are being imposed from the outside. These are things that Colombia itself wants to do. Colombia knows it has had a challenging history and knows it needs to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is important for Colombians to change perceptions of their country.
Let me deal with some of the questions and comments that have come from the opposition members who are opposed to this, and try to understand their logic and demonstrate why it is not appropriate in this debate. Essentially they are saying that we should not go forward with this agreement because President Uribe and his regime have been opposed to supporting the increase of human rights.
When we look at the statistics and the trend regarding murders, kidnappings and things that have been going on in Colombia, we see the trend is in a positive direction. The government has been doing its best to curb the violence, to solve the civil war. We should also note that it is in the government's and the president's interest to make this agreement work, to have human rights be more successful, because this is an agreement that is not only important for Colombia's relationship with Canada, but it is important for Colombia's relationship with the entire world. This agreement will demonstrate, particularly to the United States, that Colombia has made progress in areas in which it has been criticized. This is important to Colombians for what they can achieve not just with us but with the broader world. Therefore, they are motivated to continue the successes of the last few years.
It should also be remembered that this agreement is not merely with a president who, even if he is re-elected next year as the polls show is very possible, will move on in another five years. This is an agreement that has the support of Colombia's lower house and its senate. It is supported by members of different political parties and, as has been noted here, it is also supported by the private sector trade unions.
Considering the debate in this House has been about protection of labour rights, the protection of union leaders, it is important to note that private sector unions in Colombia have, by and large, been supportive of it.
We should also note that the logic of not pursuing a trade deal because of certain human rights criticisms does not hold, based on history or behaviour, to other nations. The question is not so much: Is everything perfect in a country? We know everything is not perfect in Canada. We know everything is not perfect with many of our trade partners. The question fundamentally should be the direction and desire of the people and the government of the country. The direction and desire of the people of Colombia is to improve their human rights situation, to improve their labour standards to make a better, more peaceful, more prosperous country.
If we applied the same rigorous standard of perfection to Canada, in Canada's history, no one would have had a trade deal with Canada. We have been a country that has been at the forefront of human rights, reaching out to the rest of the world, looking forward to improve and make our own country a better place. But in Canadian history, we have not been perfect; we know that and we understand that. If we desire and demand perfection from other countries, we are effectively saying we are hypocritical in not demanding other countries asking for it from us.
I ask hon. members of the House to support the agreement because it is good for Canada. It will increase our trade. It will increase our prosperity. We ask hon. members to support it because it is good for the people of Colombia. It will increase their trade and their prosperity. If we allow the perfect to be the opponent of the good, we will never progress.
This is an agreement which stands on its own merits. It stands in historical Canadian tradition of promoting human rights, promoting democracy and promoting trade. I am very proud to support it. I am very proud that my government has reached out to enter into this agreement with Colombia. I will be proud to vote for this agreement when it comes to a final vote.
Madam Speaker, I would like to start by welcoming my constituents from the wonderful riding of Laval. They will note that, despite all the rumours circulating, all the MPs in the House of Commons and Parliament are continuing to do their work and will do so until the government falls.
What is most surprising to me about today's discussion on this free trade agreement is that, on the one hand, there seems to be the belief that this government, which has never recognized or respected the rights of people from our own country, the rights of Canadians and Quebeckers who go abroad and find themselves in dangerous situations, will now ensure that the rights of Colombians are respected simply by signing a free trade agreement with them.
The Bloc Québécois is not against free trade agreements or international trade. However, we are against anything that could hurt or be harmful to vulnerable people. We have seen this too often in the past. The fact that the government did not bother to wait for the committee to draft and table its report is even more hurtful and shows again the government's lack of respect in this matter. This is such an obvious lack of respect that it is a wonder my Liberal Party colleagues can nevertheless support sending this bill to committee. It is evident that there is no way of ensuring respect for the rights of Colombians.
This is a free trade agreement in which there is no guarantee for the people who are going to be displaced and who will have to move elsewhere. Notwithstanding the comments of the hon. member earlier, since 2007 there has been an increase in the number of murders and assassinations in Colombia. When I talk about assassinations, I am referring to political murders. There has been an increase in the movement of people who must leave their land because it is too dangerous for them to live there. These are small mine owners who are being displaced by large mining companies, or small-scale farmers who are being displaced by large agribusinesses. When these people are displaced, they move to large cities, such as Bogota for example. We know what happens in big cities when new people arrive with no way to make a living. People find themselves living in shantytowns, as is the case in Brazil, where such slums are a common occurrence and where people are not living, but surviving.
I do not think that when we sign a free trade agreement, these are the results we want to achieve through it. I wonder how one could possibly believe that these mining companies would take it upon themselves to maintain and respect the human rights of Colombians, when they are not subject to any regulations and when nothing forces them to do so.
Every year, for the past number of years, officials from Development and Peace have come to see us to tell us and show us what is already happening with mining companies in other countries. We see that human rights are also being violated in these other countries. How can we believe that these companies will suddenly endorse more progressive and open social values and ensure that the people they are going to displace will at least be relocated to areas where they can live decently? I do not believe that is the case. I do not believe in the good intentions of those businesses, which stand to make billions of dollars.
Colombia has very rich soil. It has a lot of ore. It also has emerald mines. I know that women love emeralds. That country has very rich soil that can generate billions of dollars in profits annually. The only way to stop and to sanction mining companies is to impose on them fines of up to $15 million annually for all offences.
What does $15 million mean when one can get billions of dollars? Absolutely nothing. That amount is meaningless on such a large scale.
If we had really wanted to ensure the whole thing would be done in a fair and equitable fashion, first, we would have waited for the report to be tabled. Second, we would have listened carefully to the Colombians who came to meet with us. Last spring, I met with five Colombian women who urged us not to ratify this free trade agreement.
We should, at the very least, have listened to their concerns, to their pleas, and thus realized that we are actually abusing a whole segment of Colombia's population in order to give a few members of the elite class something they can boast about, namely to have succeeded in reaching an agreement with Canada. It is an agreement that gives more to them than to Colombia's population, even though they have not done anything to deserve it.
Hon. members mentioned President Uribe, who was running again. He would certainly like to run ad infinitum. That does not mean he will necessarily succeed, but if he does unfortunately, what will be the effect on human rights? How can we possibly think there will be more respect for them? I do not think so. As soon as someone starts getting ideas about being a dictator, as this man is apparently doing, the only possible conclusion is that there will be no respect or support for human rights and that nothing will be done to lend credibility to the organizations that fight for them.
Someone said earlier there were reports from reliable, credible organizations that Colombia was on the right track and had made progress. That depends, though, on the organizations we listen to. There are organizations as well on the other side that fight for human rights. Five in particular are telling us that this is not true and that there are actually more and more acts of violence against union organizers, more and more displacements to the cities, more and more marginalized people and more and more disappearances.
If we want to compare these two assessments, we should give greater credibility to the most vulnerable people and be very demanding in what we require when we sign a free trade agreement.
We saw what happened with softwood lumber. If we are negligent and insufficiently attentive about the way these free trade agreements are phrased, we will discover that the results are not necessarily what we expected.
If the government had really wanted to show some respect for the people of Colombia, for Parliament and for the parliamentarians here who worked hard and were exemplary committee members, it would at least have waited until the report was tabled and its recommendations could be considered.
That was not done. I am hardly surprised to see this in a government that does not care about women’s rights here in Canada and the rights of Canadian soldiers. We saw veterans this morning whose means of subsistence had been cut. This is also a government that does not care about the rights of the first nations.
How could a government that acts in this way toward its own citizens be expected to act differently toward the citizens of another country for which it has no respect?
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support this important initiative of free trade with our South American neighbours, the people of Colombia, in Bill , and the measures and agreements on the environment and labour co-operation that are part of that agreement.
Canada has always been a trading nation, and a great portion of our economy and wealth historically came from selling goods that are mined, sourced and manufactured in Canada. As far back as the Hudson's Bay company, our historical wealth, which began hundreds of years ago with fish and furs, developed into manufactured goods and a high-tech industry. Canada could always produce more than our people need, because we have the resources and because Canadians are an industrious people.
I think of Daniel Massey, who in 1850 founded the Massey farm implement company in Newcastle, Ontario, and his son Hart, my mother's great-grandfather, a brilliant businessman who took over the family business. Having developed the most advanced farm machinery in the world, for example reapers and threshers that were sold all over Canada, Massey Manufacturing took on the world and won. It became one of the world's largest farm implement companies, and it continued to grow.
Hart Massey was one of the original masters of the corporate takeover. He managed to absorb the Ferguson Tractor Company and later Harris manufacturing company to create the world's largest farm implement company, Massey Harris.
This was accomplished despite the tariffs that existed. One can only imagine how much further Massey Harris might have gone had there been true free trade, as will be accomplished in this agreement.
I also think about one of Canada's leading companies today, Research In Motion, which makes the BlackBerrys that are so ubiquitous on Parliament Hill and business worldwide, a current example of how Canadian entrepreneurs, given a level playing field, can take on the world and win. Those entrepreneurs have always provided thousands of jobs in Canada, and increasingly, value-added high-tech jobs, the jobs of the future.
In so many cases, such as our high-tech industry, software industry and even in mining and resources, it is important for governments to sometimes get out of the way of our most industrious and creative citizens by lowering barriers that are not benefiting the economies of nations with which it should be trading more.
This agreement opens the door, without trade barriers, to Canadian wheat, paper products, mining, oil and gas, engineering and information technology. I think of two of the world's largest engineering firms with head offices in my riding of Oakville: Amec and Acres International. They are already world-beaters. They already engineer projects all over the world, but they will have better access to Colombian business as we move forward and deepen our presence in Latin America.
Trade creates new jobs and new wealth. All one has to do is look at Ontario's auto pact, which has existed since the 1960s. It is one of our earliest free trade agreements. In my riding of Oakville, we make four Ford models currently, including the Ford Edge. Eighty per cent of the cars and sixty per cent of the auto parts manufactured in Ontario are sold in the United States. Thousands of jobs in Ontario depend upon car and car parts sold in the U.S. The auto industry knows what we know, that Canadian workers are reliable, hard-working, well-educated, healthy and productive.
This industry is totally integrated. I have a constituent in Oakville who runs a plant in Brantford, Ontario. They make engine manifolds that go to plants in the United States and Mexico. They are installed on the engines and come back to Oshawa and other parts of Canada where they are installed in cars that are then resold in the United States.
This is how far a free trade agreement can integrate an industry and create wealth. That is why one out of four jobs in Canada today comes from free trade. Canada has prospered mightily from free trade.
Our largest trading partner, the U.S., has been hit hard by this recession. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is more than double that of ours. Many of its financial institutions have failed. The sales of our producers who sell to the U.S. are down. The place that was our greatest source of trading wealth and jobs has now become weaker.
However, we have been overdependent on the U.S. market for years. The U.S. economy will recover, as will ours, but I have always wondered why the previous government, in 13 years, did not pursue more free trade agreements to lower that dependency on our American neighbours.
We now have a leader with a long-term vision for Canada, Stephen Harper, and a government that is doing that, working with our democratic allies to open doors --
Mr. Speaker, in November the went to Peru to pursue a free trade agreement with the Peruvians, and we are currently debating free trade with Peru.
We have also concluded a free trade agreement with Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Canadian products will now go into these countries without tariff penalties. Lower prices will mean more sales in those countries.
If our American friends are not in a position to buy Canadian goods, for any reason, then perhaps people in Europe or South America will.
The most exciting potential is with the European Union, where there are 27 countries. This government is moving towards a formal negotiation with all of Europe, the world's second largest economy, at over a trillion dollars. With such a trading partner the dependence we have had on trade in the U.S. market will diminish. If the U.S. economy weakens, for any reason, as it has during this worldwide recession--in fact it started in the United States--we will have other avenues for trade. Canada will become more independent by trading with more partners.
There are serious concerns over the human rights record in Colombia, yet its current administration has shown it wants to improve human rights. As people's lives become better in Colombia, that administration will become more stable and it will have the time it needs to improve human rights. For example, it has signed the accord to follow the ILO, International Labour Organization, rules, regulations and obligations regarding trade and labour, as Canada already does. There are sanctions for countries that do not follow these accords.
Perhaps most important, union leaders in Colombia have said that they support this agreement. They have said this agreement would improve the labour situation in Colombia. Who would know better than they?
The most important principle is that people's lives in Colombia and Canada improve over time. By doing business with Colombia, we have good reason to believe they will.
Free trade creates prosperity and jobs. Ongoing trade dialogue and interaction would expose what is best about Canada to the people of Colombia who are in positions of influence in their society. It will take time. However, the people in Canada and Colombia who have ideas and are inventive and produce excellent goods would all benefit from this agreement, as would the people who work in their plants and factories.
Canadian companies will continue to lead the world. I think of Fifth Light Technology, in Oakville, where a brilliant engineer has developed a ballast for fluorescent bulbs and they can dim bulbs by operating computer-based technology in a factory in their large building. They are able to reduce the lighting costs in large facilities by up to 70%. That is conserving energy.
If this technology were to be put in every commercial building, in Ontario, for example, the owners of the company feel we would need one less nuclear reactor.
This company is a world leader. This is the kind of company that could take its technology to Colombia or Europe or anywhere else in the world and be ahead of everyone else, while creating jobs here in Canada.
This is an example of our future as a trading nation, taking what we do best in the world while engaging our trading partners in human rights and principles.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill , a bill that has taken on great importance here in Parliament this week. In many respects, it is a bill that announces to the Canadian people that the most unlikely of alliances may yet come into being. The Conservatives and the NDP are twisting themselves in knots trying to put the best spin on all their flipping and flopping.
Let us talk about the text itself. This bill has its beginnings in the summit meeting that occurred last November in Lima. At that time, the said “...free and open markets are the best way to ensure the global economy can quickly rebound”.
Regardless of what has happened between November and now, I and my colleagues would like to take the at his word and believe that he meant what he said back then. However, for those of us who have been following the government's approach to Asian markets over the last three long years, it could only be seen as an eleventh hour conversion. If the had always believed what he said in Lima, the last three years would have been very different. He would have been aware of other points of focus in international trade, other borders beyond Colombia and the Americas.
This was an issue earlier this month when my leader, the Leader of the Opposition, and I sat down with some of our key stakeholders in the Pacific Rim export markets. The fact is that the last time there was any significant trade negotiations with an Asian country was back in 2001.
In all this time, three governments have completed six free trade agreements with countries in the Americas. These deals were structured much like this one. However, with a little research, we soon discover that the Americas account for only 11% of the world's GDP growth, while Asia accounts for 42% at 2008 purchasing power parity rates. To make things worse, almost twice as many Canadians are from Asia as are from the Americas. Our focus is misplaced considering the strength of our cultural ties.
In economic times like these, we cannot help wondering how much better positioned Canada would be if we had actually engaged in Asian markets over the last three years, never mind the Americas.
Perhaps the was afraid that the more time he spent in Asia he would become less Canadian or maybe someone would run ads saying that he was just visiting his own country.
However, perhaps I should just keep the focus on the bright side. Here we are and the government is doing something at least to open up Canada's markets to the world. If doing something means Colombia, let us get down to it and do it right.
Colombia needs to engage with us. The past 40 years of its history tells of illegal drugs fuelling paramilitary groups in one of the most destructive conflicts in the hemisphere. The conflict caused massive displacements, murders and human rights violations. No member of this House is under any illusion about Colombia's past. Our task now is to shape its future.
Now we see that this the very issue of human rights abuses, the one that Conservatives used to explain their failure on the China file, is not the sticking point it once was. With this Colombia agreement now a part of a confidence vote, it is no longer an issue with our New Democratic friends either. This is quite a flip-flop for them, needless to say.
Just this May, they were saying, “The NDP is standing on the side of millions of Canadians who oppose murder, torture and human rights abuses. We oppose the blood that is on this agreement”.
I guess those millions will hear a different story from them in the coming months or coming days.
They also claim that this deal makes a mockery of human rights. For members of the NDP, I guess it is a better mockery of human rights than the mockery they make of Parliament, lying in bed with the Conservatives at the first opportunity. So much for empty rhetoric. Let us look at the facts.
As a member of the international trade committee, I visited Colombia last year with my colleagues to talk to the people of Colombia. We heard from experts, businesses, NGOs, trade unions and officials. Our committee found that there has been progress in Colombia since President Uribe was elected in 2002: violence and murders are down 50%, kidnappings are down 90%; union member killings are down 70%; displacements are down 75%; tens of thousands are being reincorporated into civil society from demobilized paramilitary groups; 92% of children are in primary school; and 30,000 hectares have been reforested. However, against this progress, paramilitary groups continue to violate human rights, environmental programs lack adequate resources and corruption remains a major problem.
We must ask ourselves how we can build on our progress and engage Colombia on human rights. The Liberal Party has always believed that economic engagement helps build Canadian influence on human rights. People on the ground in Colombia agree.
The United Nations told us in Bogota that Canada can use the agreement to promote dialogue and improve accountability on human rights. Human rights activists in Colombia told the committee that trade agreements are an effective means to pressure Colombia to live up to its international human rights obligations.
To sum up, the Conservative government is squandering the tremendous potential of the Asian market and spending all its time and resources in the Americas.
It is clear that Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that had a surplus budget last year. The success story is that it is the only province that deals with other countries besides the Americas and that is where its goods and commodities are going. We should all be learning from that province.
With this deal, Canada must support Colombia's efforts to tackle the drug trade, security and corruption. Let us make sure of it.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, Canada is one of the great trading nations of the world. For many, many years we as a country have relied on trade to provide us with prosperity and to provide us with a standard of living which is the envy of the rest of the world. During these challenging economic times Canada has to look at how we do business going forward.
Presently, 75% of our trade is with the United States. That is good news, but it is also bad news. By having 75% of our trade with one country we become very dependent on that country's economy. During this recession, we have noticed that when the United States is having serious economic problems, we are feeling the impact of that.
Some time ago the World Trade Organization negotiations for a global agreement on trade fell apart. This provided a new opportunity for Canada to enter into bilateral trade relationships with countries around the world. Not only will these relationships strengthen our economy, but we in turn can have an influence and an impact on other countries that are perhaps developing. We can help them enhance their prosperity.
To that end, our Conservative government has been very aggressive in pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with countries around the world. For example, in the last four years our government has opened doors to Canadian businesses by signing free trade agreements with Colombia, which is the agreement we are debating today, and with Peru, Jordan, Panama, and the European Free Trade Association, which covers the countries of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. But there is much more work to be done.
We have actually engaged with Brazil and opened new trade offices in that country. Brazil is South America's largest economy. Our trade in 2008 totalled some $2.8 billion, which was an increase of 70% over the year before. That is great news for our economy and it is also great news for Brazil.
At the same time our government launched discussions on an economic partnership with two of the world's largest economic groups, the European Union and India.
It is self-evident that Europe provides a huge opportunity for Canada. We have not had a free trade agreement with European countries in the past but have now started negotiations toward that kind of agreement. If we sign a free trade agreement with the European Union, we expect the benefits to Canada to be in the order of $12 billion per year.
We are in the middle of a global recession that is impacting all countries around the world. We have an opportunity right now to buttress ourselves against the impacts of that recession and perhaps future economic challenges that will arise around the world. Twelve billion dollars is the potential from one free trade agreement with the European Union alone.
Of interest to my constituents in Abbotsford would be the country of India. Some 20% to 25% of my residents have Indian origin. Some 25,000 Indo-Canadians live in Abbotsford and they frequently travel to and from India. Many of them are business people who have business relationships spanning the globe.
We have recently launched negotiations with India aimed at the conclusion of a comprehensive economic partnership. Simultaneously, we also have discussions underway which are aimed at the conclusion of a nuclear cooperation agreement between our two countries.
We have also opened up eight new trade offices in India. I had the pleasure of accompanying the to India in January and we were able to see some of the offices that we opened there.
I can say from personal experience, Indians are open to these new trade relationships. They know that there is a mutual benefit there, not only for them but for Canada to strengthen those relationships.
We have not stopped at just India and Europe. We are also looking at the Middle East. Our government has signed a free trade agreement and foreign investment protection agreement with Jordan. We are also having further discussions with the country of Morocco, with a view to perhaps commencing free trade negotiations with that country.
Of course, I have not even mentioned China, which is the world's largest emerging economy. Most Canadians understand how important China is to our economic prosperity and future. Our government has made impressive gains with our commercial relationship. Quite a number of our government's ministers have travelled to India in recent months and in the last two years. China, believe it or not, is now Canada's second largest trading partner. It has leapfrogged over Japan and is now in second place. We would be remiss if we did not pursue economic and trading opportunities with that country.
To that end, we have recently opened some six new trade offices in various cities in China under our global commerce strategy. Again, this is great news for our country. It is great news for our economic prosperity. In return, of course, we assist China, because that is an emerging economy, one that wants to take its place in the world, wants to modernize, and obviously Canada is willing to cooperate and to become engaged in doing so.
One of the disappointments I recently heard about was that the Liberal had planned to make a trip to China. Because of his focus on trying to win power here in Canada, because of his threats to go to an election, he actually cancelled his trip to China. Here we have opportunities to build these relationships, opportunities to build trading relationships with the largest emerging economy in the world, and the Leader of the Opposition, after making arrangements to travel to China, puts his own political interests ahead of those of Canada by cancelling that visit.
Our is committed to travelling to China in November. He has not cancelled that visit. It surprised me that the Liberal leader would actually do that.
The previous Liberal government, over 13 years, signed a paltry three free trade agreements. In 13 years, only three agreements, which should have strengthened our economy and further cushioned us against things like the current global recession. At this time of global economic downturn, Canadians can count on our Conservative government to oppose protectionism and defend free and open trade on the world's stage. That is why our government has negotiated new free trade agreements with many, many different countries over the last three and a half years, including Colombia. This Colombia free trade agreement will create new jobs for Canadians and Colombians alike, but developing new market opportunities and improving human rights are not mutually exclusive.
Canada has one of the most well-respected human rights records in the world. For us to expect other countries to rise to our level of human rights before we ever engage in trade relationships with them is ridiculous. It is self-evident that if we want to engage with other countries not only on trade but on issues of human rights, it is advisable to link those. That is why the Colombia free trade agreement actually does link those. That free trade agreement has specific provisions addressing labour, human rights and even environmental requirements. There are enforcement provisions in the Colombia free trade agreement as well.
I speak strongly in favour of the government and Parliament moving ahead and finalizing the Colombia free trade agreement. It is good for Canada and it is good for Colombia.
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we are debating the subamendment put forward by the hon. member for to amend the amendment presented by the hon. member for , which basically calls on this House to refuse to give its consent to Bill .
With this subamendment, the hon. member for is asking that we consider this refusal, “including having heard vocal opposition to the accord from human rights organizations”. The member is therefore asking this House to refuse to grant its consent based on comments we have received from groups asking us not to support this bill. I must say there are many such groups, both in Canada and in Colombia.
I would like to name a few of those groups: the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development and Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Lawyers Without Borders, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the National Union of Public and General Employees.
These are but a few of the organizations in Canada and Quebec calling on us to not support the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. I must say that, even in Colombia, civil society is trying to mobilize to show its lack of support for this agreement. However, we will agree that it is harder to organize in the rather difficult situation in Colombia.
I would point out that a number of members of our caucus met last February with members of the coalition of social movements and organizations of Colombia, which includes the national indigenous organization of Colombia, the popular women's organization, the national agrarian coordinator, the Christian movement for peace with justice and dignity, the national movement for health and social security, the Afro-American African roots movement and the Black Community Process.
It is extremely important in making a decision to check with a number of the players to see whether there might be a consensus regarding this agreement. Unfortunately, in this matter, I believe a number of voices were raised against the agreement.
In June 2008, here in Parliament, the Standing Committee on International Trade tabled a report entitled Human Rights, the Environment and Free Trade with Colombia. The report made a number of recommendations to the government, recommendations the government did not implement. It decided to have the agreement ratified without considering the very sound recommendations made by the committee, including that Canada not sign the free trade agreement with Colombia until it was confirmed that the improvements in human rights were maintained and continuing.
The government nevertheless decided to proceed with the agreement, even though according to the information available to us, Colombia's record continues to be disastrous.
The committee also recommended that governments mandate an independent body to study the impact on rights and the environment of such an agreement. Canada has not done any study. And if studies have been done, the public has not been informed of them.
As well, the committee recommended that a competent body be established to examine the repercussions on human rights comprehensively, impartially and independently.
All of this is part of the process that would have led Canada to sign this trade agreement with a concern for its potential repercussions on the Colombian people. These recommendations came from parliamentarians. Once again, we note the Conservative government's propensity to ignore majority proposals from the House. We have seen and identified a number of proposals right here in this House during the two mandates of the Conservatives. I have to say that this is not the first time the Standing Committee on International Trade has been rebuffed. Last year, the government decided to categorically reject the committee's report calling on it to exclude water from all trade agreements.
Once again, the government decided to ignore the opinion of the House. As members of Parliament, how are we supposed to support such an anti-democratic attitude? Parliament is the voice of the people. When parliamentarians unite to make recommendations to the government, it seems to me that the government should take note and act accordingly. But ironically, in the case of the free trade agreement with Colombia, the government says that it has to go through with its draft free trade agreement to support democracy in Colombia. How are we supposed to trust the government when it comes to signing a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement when it will not even listen to its own Parliament?
Of course such agreements have to protect investments. We are not opposed to that. However, we must ensure that these agreements respect both partners. The government is calling this a free trade agreement, but free trade agreements are usually negotiated between partners of similar size. In this case, the agreement seems designed to protect investments. In many cases, that makes sense because it creates a predictable environment and ensures that assets belonging to foreign investors will not be taken over in the event of nationalization. In this particular case, we have to ensure that such protection will not be detrimental to the country where the investment is made.
Chapter 11 of NAFTA allows some investors to initiate legal proceedings against countries that seek to change or improve their human rights or environmental laws. It is clear that the contents of this proposal are not in line with what members of the House called for in committee. The government's refusal to heed the recommendations of civil society groups is appalling.
Mr. Speaker, the Canadian International Development Agency has been working with the government of Colombia to bring greater peace and security to Colombia.
Although Colombia is an established democracy with a growing economy, a responsible government, an active civil society and stable institutions, it also suffers from the longest running conflict in the Americas. More than three million people are internally displaced in the country. However, in recent years the global community and international organizations working in Colombia have recognized that the personal security conditions of urban Colombians has improved.
With the support of the international community, government authorities and civil society organizations are taking actions that are contributing to increased peace, security and prosperity. It is important that Canada continue to work toward peaceful change in Colombia and we can be very proud of our track record in supporting this process.
In fact, Canada is the lead donor on children's rights and protection in Colombia. CIDA's programs are protecting children from violence, preventing their recruitment into armed conflict and helping them regain their place in their home communities. We promote environmentally sustainable agriculture and provide individuals who have grown illicit crops with alternative livelihoods that contribute to national food security.
Canada's relationship with Colombia includes support for peace and democracy, a strengthened bilateral economic relationship, a frank dialogue on human rights, close co-operation on security and humanitarian issues, counter-narcotics and landmine action.
In the past five years, CIDA has disbursed over $64 million in Colombia. CIDA programs focus on democratic governance, with an emphasis on the protection and promotion of the human rights of vulnerable people affected by the conflict, especially children, adolescence and internally displaced people.
CIDA has contributed $8.8 million to assist internally displaced people to claim their rights, strengthen Colombia's national policies and programs that respond to the plight of the displaced and help to find durable solutions that will facilitate their return when possible.
This past February, in fact, the announced that CIDA would focus 80% of its bilateral programming in 20 countries, and Colombia is one of them. Furthermore, DFAIT's global peace and security program provided more than $14.5 million in conflict prevention and peace-building programs between 2006 and 2009. The program centres on justice and confidence-building initiatives, support for political dialogue and enhancing security and stability.
Canada is also one of the largest supporters of the Organization of American States' mission to support the peace process in Colombia. This mission has played a critical role in supporting the government's efforts to demobilize paramilitary forces in Colombia. It also protects the rights of women victims of sexual violence, as well as indigenous conflict victims.
Between 2007 and 2009, Canada provided more than $10 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protect internally displaced people and refugees in neighbouring countries. CIDA works with its trusted multilateral partners, such as the Red Cross and the World Food Programme to reach these people.
In addition, DFAIT's counterterrorism capacity-building program provides states with training, funding, equipment and technical and legal expertise to help prevent terrorist activity. Since 2005, the program has provided $1.5 million to projects in Colombia.
Canada is also one of the largest donors for mine action in Colombia. From 2003 to 2008, working primarily through the Organization of American States and UNICEF, Canada contributed more than $3.7 million for humanitarian demining, stockpile destruction, victim assistance, mine risk education and mine action coordination. Colombia's efforts to achieve greater peace and security are further aligned with Canadian values and interests.
The government of Colombia has taken positive steps that demonstrate its continued efforts to curb violence against trade unionists, to fight impugnity for the perpetrators of such crimes, to promote security and peace within a human rights protection framework and to establish the rule of law.
Canada's labour program, through the international program for professional labour administration, is providing $1 million for labour related technical assistance initiatives in Colombia. These initiatives are helping, not harming, the Colombian labour ministry to increase its capacity to train labour leaders and enforce labour legislation. There are still challenges in Colombia and Canada will continue to do its part to support that country's efforts to strengthen peace, security and full respect for human rights, but strides have been made.
Let me take a moment to tell members some of the results of CIDA's development programs in Colombia. CIDA has been working through the office of the high commissioner for human rights to help the government and civil society organizations to work together to develop a national plan of action on human rights. As a result, human rights are being integrated into the activities of Colombian government institutions and an increased number of officials now know and understand international human rights obligations and are able to implement them. In addition, there has been better media coverage of human rights issues and more information has been made available to the public on human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
However, illegal armed groups continue to recruit boys and girls and engage in sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war. Children's rights and protection are being given prominence among CIDA's programs to mitigate these challenges, and we are getting results. An estimated 15,000 children and youth have been prevented from being recruited in armed forces and 260 demobilized child combatants have been reintegrated into their home communities.
A new law has been passed on children and youth and more than 12,000 civil servants are trained to implement the law. Approximately 6,000 adolescents have developed their conflict resolution and other life skills in schools, with support from 400 peers trained as youth leaders. Some 70% of all demobilized children and youth will receive better health, education, protection and integration services because of CIDA's efforts.
Since Colombia has the second largest population of internally displaced persons in the world, three to four million people, and is the country in the Americas that is the most affected by landmines and explosive remnants of war, CIDA's support is helping improve the lives of a significant number of Colombians.
Colombia now has public policies and programs that protect and guarantee the rights of internally displaced persons, programs that take into account the different needs of women, children and ethnic minorities. CIDA's efforts have also led to protection being provided to 470,000 internally displaced people who did not receive benefits because they were not part of the national registry. More than 100,000 of these displaced people were issued identity documents through the national registry office and are now able to receive the services to which they are entitled.
We believe that Canada's efforts to advance a free trade agreement and to promote and protect human and labour rights in Colombia are mutually re-enforcing and equally important. The economic development that flows from increased trade, in tandem with enforcement of labour rights, will strengthen Colombia's social foundations, reduce violence and bring greater security and prosperity to Colombians.
Colombia is an important strategic trade and investment partner for Canada and Canadian companies are very involved in Colombian mining, oil and gas projects. As I am sure all members are aware, CIDA's mandate is to reduce poverty and foster sustainable development. Economic growth is one of the three themes that the minister has spelled out for all CIDA programs, along with children and youth and food security. In Colombia economic growth through the free trade agreement will not only help to secure the futures of children in adolescence, it is the key to stability, security and environmentally sustainable growth.
I ask my fellow members to consider that the economic growth this agreement will bring can help to solidify the government of Colombia's efforts to create a more prosperous, equitable and sure democracy. I, as a mother of five children, hope that all members think about their own children when they vote. This is an important issue for not only Canadians but for Colombians and their children. Please vote for this. Please support this and make a difference not only in humanitarian issues but in economic issues. I applaud all members who have stood before us today to indicate their support.
Mr. Speaker, Canada is a democratic country that respects the rule of law, a country that respects human rights. We must ensure that we support countries that seek these objectives and that work to reach them. That is one of the reasons why Canada must try to sign bilateral trade agreements and to improve economic opportunities for Colombia's businesses. We must reconcile this goal with the responsibility to promote human rights.
We feel that a free trade agreement would encourage the Colombian government to undertake other reforms to promote economic growth, public safety and human rights. Over the past few years, Colombia has made real progress regarding the economy, and also social and public safety programs, but it is a fragile process. FARC terrorists, drug traffickers and attacks from the Chavez regime in Venezuela are all constant threats. Colombia is a beautiful country where honest people live and where natural resources abound. It is a country where the situation has been catastrophic for over 40 years, a country that has been paralyzed and divided by a civil war that began as ideological differences, but turned into a war without any ideological basis between drug traffickers, a war that has generated nothing but greed, despair and violence.
Since 2002, huge progress has been made, particularly with regard to public safety. Eight years ago, people were afraid to walk in the streets of Bogota and 400 towns were still controlled by FARC. This progress must continue, and so far it has been supported.
Some members of civil society have said they are opposed to Bill for reasons of human rights. There has been corruption and human rights violations in Colombia for years. Human Rights Watch, however, has noted that “under US pressure related to the FTA, Colombia has started to take some positive steps on impunity for anti-union violence”, although these improvements are incomplete.
Progress has been made since 2002, although violence continues. Corruption is also chronic in Colombia: more than 30 members of its Congress were under arrest in 2008 and more than 60 were being investigated on suspicion of ties to the paramilitaries. Despite these investigations, it is important to note that the paramilitaries are financed by Colombian drug trafficking and that they themselves help to perpetuate it. Civil society members agree that Colombia cannot fight effectively against drug trafficking and corruption or make lasting improvements in public safety unless its legitimate economy improves, jobs are created and there are opportunities for marginalized people.
Bill is opposed by labour unions such as the United Steelworkers and the Canadian Labour Congress, but they have opposed all of Canada’s free trade agreements. The Canadian unions say that the Colombian government has implicitly encouraged anti-union violence and that the conclusion of a free trade agreement with Colombia signifies that we accept this. Human rights and labour rights groups do not want to see the Government of Colombia “rewarded” with a free trade agreement. Much remains to be accomplished in Colombia. This country needs our help.
If we close the door on a country like Colombia that is making progress, especially at a time when leaders of civil society, labour unions, governments and victims of violence by paramilitary groups and FARC guerrillas are trying to make progress, if we isolate Colombia in the Andes region and leave it exposed and vulnerable to unilateral, ideological attacks from Chavez’s Venezuela, we will just be allowing evil to prosper.
There is no moral justification for Canadians to do nothing. If a single member of Parliament or a single Canadian is concerned about the human rights situation in Colombia, then we must demand more of this country.
The free trade agreement creates a strong, regulated system to monitor the rights of working people, human rights and the environmental progress made in Colombia and to help Colombians manage and improve these rights and this progress.
Workers' rights and the problems in this area occurred without any free trade agreement. Trade links between Canada and Colombia exist already, but no regulated system exists to direct this relationship.
The provisions of this new free trade agreement are the strongest yet with respect to workers and the environment. In fact, none of the agreements signed by Canada to date contain such provisions. Accordingly, as Canadians, we must ask ourselves how such an agreement could do anything but strengthen our ability to influence human rights and workers' rights in Colombia positively.
Overall, most people and groups, including human rights NGOs, support ratification of the free trade agreement with Canada. They do not think this agreement would have a negative impact on the economy or human rights in Colombia. Many even believe that the agreement could increase Canada's oversight of workers' and indigenous rights thanks to its framework, which provides rules, and to the two side agreements in the areas of labour and the environment.
Canada has noted the difficulties faced by the Uribe government in its fight against the production and trafficking of narcotics and against FARC and emerging criminal gangs. Canada has noted as well the progress made in disarming paramilitary groups and reducing violence in general and violence against unionists in particular. The Colombian senators also spoke of a tripartite commission comprising the government, the unions and employers. This commission, under the supervision of the International Labour Organization, is helping Colombia honour its commitments to the ILO. At its annual meeting in 2009, the ILO reported progress in Colombia.
Finally, and this is the most important part, most of the senators that Canada met acknowledged that a free trade agreement with Canada would strengthen and improve living conditions in Colombia. Such an agreement would help to reduce poverty, prevent the resurgence of illegal armed groups and keep more Colombians from becoming dependent on the narco-economy.
The Canadian delegation met a group of Colombian economists who indicated their support for a rules-based free trade agreement with Canada. They pointed out how vital it was for Colombia to conclude this free trade agreement, especially since countries such as Chile and Peru had managed to conclude such agreements with key trading partners, including Canada. They stressed the need for Colombia to diversify its trade relations away from countries such as Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. The threat that Chavez represents for Colombia was a recurrent theme throughout Canada's meetings in Colombia. They said as well that there are increasing numbers of FARC guerrillas in Venezuela, who are protected by the Chavez government so they can continue to launch attacks against Colombia and against companies and individuals there.
A number of unions in the private sector in Colombia support the union movement. There, the union movement represents 6% of the labour force, and opposition to this agreement comes primarily from the public sector within the union movement. The trade unionists in the public sector have nothing to lose by supporting a rigid anti-free trade ideology. Those with the most to gain from the free trade agreement, however, are the workers in the parallel economy, who represent 56% of the labour force.
In conclusion, since I have less than a minute left, I would like to say that now is the time for Canadians who are so concerned about the welfare of Colombians to give them a chance to be a part of the economy and not let them be the victims of an ideology. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Legitimate trading activities can help the people of Colombia replace the forces of evil with the forces of hope. Now is the time for Canadians to reach out to Colombians and help them build a more peaceful, prosperous and just future.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to be back and opening up our fall session with a discussion, as I said earlier, on a topic that is very important not only to Canada but also to Colombia.
There is no doubt members realize that especially during these economic times brought on by a global economic recession, it is vital for Canada to continue to keep its doors open for business opportunities where investment can grow. I have seen examples of this need right in my own riding of Simcoe North where producers and manufacturers, those involved in supplying key industries that would be able to expand and grow in a market like Colombia, would directly benefit.
It is a great delight to be part of a discussion that is advancing opportunities for investment and for business growth for Canadians.
The Colombia free trade agreement is part of this government's ongoing focus on expanding our interests in trade generally. As was commented on earlier in this debate, Canada has been active on a number of fronts, not just in the Americas but in Europe and Asia as well. All of this is vital in terms of expanding the reach and in turn the prosperity that companies can provide, operating here in Canada and supplying to markets and supply chains active in these new markets for our country.
Looking at our overall progress in the last few years, we need look back no more than four years to see that we have opened up new agreements with not only Colombia but also Peru, Jordan and Panama. Of course we are all familiar with the works that have been concluded in EFTA.
In addition to working on specific bilateral trade agreements, we are continuing to keep more trade offices open in emerging markets and those that we know are vital to our own interests.
We are helping to expand trade. We are opening doors for Canadian business and encouraging investment at a very critical time for our country. Through the interest in expanding our interest in the Americas, this has been ongoing for close to three years.
I have mentioned some of the markets that we are already expanding into, but the Americas are of particular interest to Canada because of our geographic proximity, being in the same hemisphere.
This is an area where Canada can play an increasingly vital role not just in trade, but also in areas of defence and policies relating to our diplomatic efforts in our part of the world. When events unfold in this hemisphere, Canada's interests are more directly impacted and so our focus on trade and on greater and stronger ties with other nations in the Americas are of tremendous benefit not just to Canada but to all of the member countries that make up this hemisphere.
It should not be lost on members or those who are listening at home that we are not only achieving an economic benefit by these agreements but that we are also helping to reinforce our own national and security interests at the same time.
Let me take a moment to speak a bit more specifically about Colombia in particular.
Members have heard a number of points made on both sides of the questions, both pro and con. It cannot be lost on our audience in the House or on people who are tuning in that these kinds of agreements represent benefits not just for Canadians but also for Colombians.
On the whole issue of advancing human rights and making sure that we are recognizing important labour and environmental standards in the course of these agreements, it should be understood that the interests of advancing human rights and those of advancing economic benefits are not mutually exclusive. That is to say that one can benefit the other. They are indeed complementary activities that we need to be engaged in on both fronts, not just to create an economic upside.
We all recognize that Colombia is still moving along the path of better security at home and better recognition of human rights. Certainly, Canada has been active in advancing those interests. We are not there yet, but something like increased trade with a country like Colombia can move that along at a much quicker pace.
We need to realize that Colombia is not going to make much more progress on human rights if they become isolated by the international community. That is something that is certainly not lost on our interests here in Canada. Indeed, we have seen where Colombia is taking up the same kinds of discussions with the United States, the European Free Trade Association and, in the near term, with the European Union as well.
While we recognize that it is still not perfect there, we need to see that progress is being made and that the continued engagement of Canada and other international partners in Colombia is going to advance and improve the situation on the ground. We have made some terrific progress in the last four to five years.
What are the direct elements of a free trade agreement? I suspect these are items that may have been covered in earlier discussions, but I am delighted to see that this is the kind of free trade agreement that is going to include greater market access for goods, better cross-border trade and services and investment in the financial services sector and in government procurement. In this day and age, we know that in order for businesses in Canada or those in Colombia to be successful, they have to be part of an integrated industrial supply chain that is producing goods and services not just for their own markets but for the world.
The more we open up the doors to investment in other countries, the greater the chance that Canadian companies right here at home are going to be able to participate and supply goods and services to those transactions. It is not like it was a decade or more ago, when we looked for markets in isolated pockets. This is a large and growing global supply chain that our companies can play a greater part in and indeed they are doing so. As we open up more agreements just like this one, the upside for our companies becomes even greater.
I will go back to a point I made earlier with respect to benefits for Colombians themselves. Right off the bat, a free trade agreement like this is going to reduce if not eliminate tariffs for Colombian manufacturers, exporters and producers. They will then be able to increase trade with Canada and probably even expand into North American markets in the near term. More liberalized trade will expand investment and create more job opportunities for Colombians on the ground. However, the same can be said for those businesses that are part of that activity right here in Canada.
I am getting the sign that we are just about out of time here. I would just like to sum up and say that this is exactly the kind of activity that we need to continue to make a part of our priorities on the economic front. It is going to bring great results for us here at home. At the same time, it is going to be advancing security and interests important to that host country as well.
Let us continue to keep on with these kinds of free trade agreements. They are going to make the world a much better place. We know that to be true from our own examples these last few years.
I invite questions from the hon. members.