Evidence of meeting #11 for International Trade in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • David Plunkett  Chief Trade Negotiator, Bilateral and Regional Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Alexandra Bugailiskis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Carol Nelder-Corvari  Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

4 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

I can answer the part of your question that concerns our ability and our contacts with NGOs, but I'm not in a position to comment on...

I'm sorry, I don't know the word for “amendment”.

At any rate, I'm certainly aware of the conversations that have taken place in the House, but there has been no formal tabling of an amendment, so I'm not in a position to be able to comment directly. I don't know what that amendment would pertain to.

But I can give you reassurances with regard to--

4 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Therefore, I would assume that if the amendment is adopted, we can have you back to find out more about matters that will concern the department. Because what you are telling us today is that you cannot answer this question. No doubt then we will require additional information later.

Thank you.

4 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

We have always been very open with this committee with regard to the contacts we have in Colombia, with regard to the various unions as well as NGOs. We are happy to share those lists with you.

We have to be very careful about giving any commentary on the various organizations, because we would not want to bias in any way.... We can certainly tell you their reputation, I guess, within the country, but we would not want to be subjective in giving our assessment; we think it's important for the committee to meet all measures of organizations.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Regarding the human rights issue that you yourself raised earlier, we know that the current President of Colombia has made some commitments in this area. I would imagine than that you are going to do an evaluation, since you mentioned it. This is one of the recommendations that you are making.

Has the President passed any laws and taken any concrete steps since last fall, or has he merely made some promises? Have you evaluated the situation?

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

If I understand the question correctly, you are asking if the new President and the new Government of Colombia will respect the commitments...

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

...that he himself made. To date, has he taken any concrete steps in this direction?

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

I cannot speak for the Government of Colombia, but I do know that all parties in Colombia have signed on to the democratic security policy.

The democratic security policy of President Uribe is engagement with the international community to monitor the human rights situation. All opposition parties have agreed to accept that policy. Therefore, we are very confident that any new government in Colombia would certainly follow the same.

Isn't that what you were asking?

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

No, it's fine. You stated that all parties were on board. My NDP colleague is signalling to me that he disagrees with that statement.

Would you care to comment about the situation? To date, have any laws been passed to translate these commitments into action? During the election campaign, the President of Colombia made a number of commitments with respect to human rights. I would image that to uphold these commitments, some concrete action is required.

Your department was responsible for negotiating this free trade agreement with the Government of Colombia. Now that the agreement has been finalized, I'd like to know what steps you are taking to ensure that the commitments that were made are being met. Or, are we merely observers of a situation that has not evolved?

4:05 p.m.

Chief Trade Negotiator, Bilateral and Regional Relations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

David Plunkett

In general terms, when agreements come into effect and a treaty is concluded with a country, inevitably there are going to be changes of government on potentially both sides. These agreements always will have an institutional clause that says if one party or the other wishes to terminate an agreement, there are procedures set in place to do so.

But as far as I'm aware, at least within my realm of activities, these treaties simply carry on after a change of government. We have no reason to believe otherwise.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

That's not really what I was asking, unfortunately. Not at all.

I was asking you if you had observed any changes since last fall, in the wake of the commitments made by President Uribe Vélez. Has he taken any concrete steps to follow through on the promises that he made? How would you assess the steps that have been taken in Colombia?

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

We have seen enormous engagement by the Colombian government on a number of international agreements, as well as bilateral. Yes, we believe that largely they have been respected and followed through. There have been occasional setbacks where they have not been able to complete agreements on as timely a basis as we would have liked. That's when our dialogue and our engagement definitely increase. We raise this at every juncture and at the highest level, including with the minister. Overall, though, I think the performance is a very strong one. It's not easy in a country like Colombia that's still struggling with an internal civil conflict.

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

If it's so difficult, why then was the government so determined to negotiate a free trade agreement? You have just admitted that the process is not that easy in a country like Colombia. That is precisely what we dislike about this agreement. It was negotiated in a climate in which there is no regard for human rights. You have just admitted that in so may words.

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Carribbean, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Alexandra Bugailiskis

What we look at, sir, is the trend line that...the movement has been very positive. What I'm saying--I'm just being realistic--is that there are sometimes setbacks, but the conviction of the Colombian government to move forward, to open its doors to international scrutiny, is very clear and has been very strong. We have seen, as I said in my presentation, real improvements with regard to the general security situation, and even a decrease in the homicide rates.

So yes, there is substantial, concrete evidence of that conviction.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Lee Richardson

Thank you.

Thank you, Monsieur Laforest.

Mr. Julian.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for coming forward, but I must admit that I'm more disturbed now than I was before you started your presentation.

If the amendment calls upon the Government of Canada to accept whatever reporting mechanism Colombia puts into place to monitor human rights organizations, what we see is the monitoring taking place currently. I must say that I'm deeply disappointed in what is a whitewashing of your presentation.

The number of disappearances has increased; the number of false positives—which are killings, as you know—of mainly Afro-Colombians and aboriginal Colombians who were massacred by the Colombian military, often with rewards and incentives, has increased; and the sexual torture of Colombian women has increased. Yet none of that is reflected in your presentation today.

I think that's unfortunate, because if the debate is whether or not the Colombian government reporting on itself or having some oversight from the federal government would improve the human rights situation, one would have expected that there would have been ongoing monitoring. And nothing of what human rights organizations are saying is reflected in this presentation today.

Now, of course there will be human rights organizations here. Many of them have already indicated that they want to come before committee, so they will have a chance to rebut. But if this is an example of how the Canadian government reports on Colombian human rights violations, I must say that it certainly underscores the argument that an amendment where the Colombian government reports on itself or the Canadian government simply rubber-stamps that report.... I think those concerns will increase after the presentation today.

I'm going to ask you two questions. The first question is around the amendment, and whether you've seen it. I think you've already responded to Mr. Laforest that--