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 colombia.

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

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

The broader question, besides the case of Dr. Cossio.... Dr. Cossio and seven members of his family were arrested by the Venezuelan police on April 1. Foreign Affairs Minister Bermúdez in Colombia has spoken out on this, and is loudly protesting this before the UN, the OAS, and other international fora. That's one specific human rights issue that we're concerned about with Venezuela.

But in terms of the broader risk that the Chavez regime represents in the Andean region, given the threats of Chavez to close the border to Colombian goods--I believe the Venezuelan market represents about 40% of Colombian exports now--and given the fact that FARC is increasingly basing itself in Venezuela and is being harboured by Chavez, in terms of the geopolitical aspects and the geopolitical stability of the Andean region, how important is this agreement to fortifying Colombia in the face of the threat that Chavez represents?

Could you speak to the human rights situation in Venezuela and compare the trend line with Colombia's in recent years? We know that civil society, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech don't exist in Venezuela, as an example, but I'd be interested in your thoughts and observations based on your analysis on the ground.

4:30 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

Thank you very much.

I would need to be a bit cautious, given the public nature of the forum. I would say, though, that we lead by example. What I mean is that our interest in engagement on a dialogue on human rights, whether it's with Colombia or Venezuela, or on a free trade agreement in the case of Colombia, is really led by our values--our adherence to open markets and to opportunity. It is not part of a larger geopolitical agenda. I think the best way to promote greater peace, security, and prosperity in the region is really through those three pillars of our engagement policy on democracy, on security, and on prosperity.

The impact, I would think, would be a positive one. I believe very much that when Canada puts forward it best--its values and its principles--it can only help to improve conditions. When countries like Chile, with which we have a free trade agreement, continue to thrive both economically and democratically, it's an example that can speak better than any other speech about the benefits of open trade and democracy.

With regard to a comparison, I would prefer to defer, because I think it's very difficult when you get into the realm of statistics and comparisons. No two countries are ever exactly alike. Their constitutions differ and change.

I just gave testimony earlier today at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights with regard to Venezuela, where the trend line is very disturbing. We are seeing a greater concentration of power. We are seeing--not only us, but also organizations such the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights--decreasing space for opposition, commentary, and freedom of expression. At the same time, the security situation has very much worsened. I think it might be surprising to find out that the homicide rate in Venezuela is actually far higher than it is in Colombia.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Lee Richardson

Thank you, Mr. Brison.

We're going to have to move on to Mr. Trost.

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

From my perspective, this is quite a timely report. A couple of weeks ago I was down in Bogotá and Cali. I have a sister-in-law from Cali, so I was down there on some family business. I've been there before, and it's an absolutely beautiful and spectacular country. We drove an hour outside of Cali in the countryside.

I think the thing that would surprise a lot of people who haven't been there is how secure it is. I didn't see a single police officer, with the exception of a couple of highway cops checking for speeders, as they would in Saskatoon, and I only saw one soldier the whole way. The public image of the country and the reality on the ground are quite different.

I want to follow up on something Mr. Plunkett spoke to, and Mr. Cannis was going this way in some of his earlier questioning: Canada's advantage in ratifying the treaty earlier, relative to the EU and the United States.

I was wondering, Mr. Plunkett, if you and perhaps other witnesses could elaborate in more detail on the advantages Canadian businesses would get if we went earlier. Could you give some specific examples, such as the auto industry--where apparently tariffs in Colombia are dropping 35%--or agriculture and so on?

What are our advantages--speaking very specifically--by getting this done sooner?

4:35 p.m.

Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Carol Nelder-Corvari

Thank you.

As I indicated, this is a very robust market access agreement. Most Colombian tariffs will be eliminated on most Canadian exports immediately upon implementation of this agreement, and that includes wheat, pulses--which are key exports--a variety of paper products, machinery, and equipment.

I think you're thinking of some off-road motor vehicles that are being exported from Canada. Those, I think, are being phased out over a five-year period; I'm not sure, so I'd have to check specifically on that. But for most of our exports, the tariffs will be eliminated immediately, and those tariffs range from 10% to over 100%, depending on what the products are. The rest--

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

In some of these products we compete directly with the Americans in selling to the Colombian market. Is that correct?

4:35 p.m.

Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Carol Nelder-Corvari

Absolutely, and our wheat exports in particular compete head-on with the United States. I would say that in all categories we're competing with the United States. In paper products, machinery, and equipment, that is certainly the case. So yes, this agreement provides an important advantage to our exporters.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

On certain crops--you named pulses, wheat, barley, etc.--the tariffs will be vanishing, but the Colombians chose not to eliminate all the tariffs on all the agriculture crops. On beans, for example, I believe the average tariff is going to be around 60% going forward.

From your perspective, what was the Colombian reasoning? Why were they very free and open on certain crops, but protective on a couple of specific crops? What was their reasoning behind total elimination in some agricultural products and high protection in others?

4:35 p.m.

Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Carol Nelder-Corvari

In these types of negotiations, the negotiations focus on areas where there are sensitivities, and in those areas where Colombia had domestic sensitivities, they'd be demanding to phase the tariff out over a period of time to allow for adjustment. Those sensitivities are accommodated by these longer phase-outs.

In the case of beans, I believe there was a tariff rate quota, a free--

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

There's a basic amount that's allowed tariff-free, and then the tariff goes up.

4:40 p.m.

Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Carol Nelder-Corvari

Yes, that's right. In that case, we look at Canadian traditional exports to Colombia, we look at growth, and we say that at a minimum--

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Let me follow up.

The explanation that I got down there was that the crops that went to zero were by and large crops that would be competing against Chile, the United States, and the EU. The crops on which they maintained a high tariff were crops from what we would call almost subsistence farmers, people with one or two acres. In that way the trade agreement did not disadvantage the poor farmers, but at the same time it would help to lower food costs for the broader consuming public, particularly the poor. Bakeries all across the country, of course, would watch their flour costs go down.

Would what I'm saying here be consistent with what you gathered in your more technical language, in terms of what the Colombians were doing and what their reasoning was to protect their poor while at the same time lowering food costs for their overall population?

4:40 p.m.

Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Carol Nelder-Corvari

There is always preferential treatment given in any trade negotiations we have with a developing country, so we would be looking for them to phase out tariffs over a longer period of time than Canada would. Our tariffs were phased out either immediately or over three to seven years, whereas Colombia would phase theirs out over a five- to ten-year period. Those concerns are always balanced in arriving at the principles of the negotiations at the outset.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Lee Richardson

Thank you.

Go ahead, Monsieur Guimond.

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Guimond Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good day to the witnesses.

My question is for Mrs. Bugailiskis. On page one of your statement, you note that conditions have greatly improved. You refer to the country's performance in important areas such as the general security situation and violence toward unionists and community leaders.

I've been listening to you say for a while now that there is not a lot of data available and that this data is also somewhat unreliable. Yet, you do make a number of statements, one of which is that conditions have vastly improved.

How can you really say that conditions in Colombia have improved if you consider the data that you have to be somewhat unreliable?