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

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

To our witnesses, I very much appreciate your coming in. I know you have a difficult job. I echo Mr. Brison's words that we have a first-class, top-quality bureaucracy in the members of the foreign service and members of international trade working throughout the world on our behalf and on behalf of our companies. So thank you for that.

The other point I want to raise is that this is the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Every country in the world has seen a decrease in their trade balances. It only makes sense that Colombia would see a decrease in their trade balances.

But I'd like to add one other point, and I'd like to get your opinion on it. One of the reasons is that this bill has been held up in our Parliament for far too long. It's been held up for, I believe, the wrong reasons, and many of our companies, rather than pay 15% duty to do business in Colombia, have started doing business through Mexican sub-companies that they own. That business now is being certified and goes on Mexico's balance sheet instead of Canada's balance sheet. I can certainly produce witnesses who are looking at doing business in Mexico right now rather than building equipment in Canada and shipping it into Colombia, because we have not been able to ratify this free trade agreement.

Would anyone like to comment on that fact? And are you aware that this is occurring?

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.

Carol Nelder-Corvari Director, International Trade Policy Division, Department of Finance

Thank you for that question.

When I was preparing to come before this committee, I was thinking back; it's been two years since negotiations have been completed. Part of the reason this FTA was aggressively negotiated was due to the recommendations of this committee to undertake defensive FTAs to ensure that we don't become uncompetitive in markets in which our trading partners are negotiating FTAs.

The U.S., of course, has negotiated with Colombia. They have just completed negotiations with the EU as well. We're facing tariffs from 10% to over 100%, so I don't know how the elimination of those tariffs would lead to a decline in exports. Of course, the economic recession has seriously undermined trade around the world.

We have an opportunity here. It's a very strong agreement. There is broad-based support among industry across Canada and among agricultural producers.

Now is the time to move to creating an advantage for Canada, which is what we're trying to do with this agreement and our global commerce strategy in general.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

I'd like to make another comment, because I think it bears repeating. It has been said at this committee before. When the committee was in Colombia, we met with President Uribe. I'd like to tell you that I was extremely impressed by both President Uribe and his cabinet. They're accused of being a right-wing government, but I would call them a coalition government.

There were people within Mr. Uribe's cabinet from every persuasion, from the far left to the far right to centre-right to centre-left. People who had been kidnapped by FARC are now in cabinet, and people who had been kidnapped by paramilitaries are now in cabinet. To me, they had one unifying detail, and it stood out among them all: they all wanted to pursue a better Colombia, a Colombia that, although steeped in democratic traditions, had faced serious obstacles in the last 20-year period.

They saw themselves coming out of this period. They had safety and the ability to travel. They've not had that for many years in Colombia. No one is saying that the situation is perfect there, but I cannot understand how anyone could say that Colombia has not improved. Colombia, by every standard, has improved in every single area that I can use to mark their progress, from human rights to labour laws to abolition of child labour to a better understanding and protection of the environment, and on and on in every category.

I know you folks have travelled in Colombia and I know you understand what this trade agreement does. I'd like your take on the fact that, yes, there is work to be done, but Colombia is moving in the right direction.

4:25 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

Thank you very much, Mr. Keddy.

I can only concur with your assessment. It's always difficult when you're dealing with statistics. I mean, you cannot look at a photo stop; you have to look at the trend lines.

As I said in my opening remarks, that is what we've monitored, and that's what we're hearing reported by very reputable UN organizations, that the trend lines are very positive. There continue to be challenges, but what you have in Colombia is a government that's willing to take on those challenges and to be able to continue to improve.

The reason we're interested in a trade agreement is that we think this is one of many tools in our toolbox that we can use to help the Colombian people to have a much stronger future, to have alternatives, to have greater opportunities, to have prosperity and security in their country, and to become even a better member of our neighbourhood.

Thank you.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

If there's any time left--

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Lee Richardson

There is no time. There will be time if we do an extra round, so I think we will. We have other business to do today, but if we could keep it to five minutes, I would be happy to entertain a quick round.

We'll start with Mr. Silva for a five-minute round.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

I'll be very brief, because I think I want to share my time with Mr. Brison.

I would like some clarification, and maybe you could help us clarify things. I've been trying to follow the elections in Colombia. My understanding is that the two front-running candidates were former ministers in the Uribe government and that the third one is the former mayor of Bogotá.

I believe all of them are pretty much on the same page on a lot of security issues and also on trade, but I wanted to know whether departments on the ground have learned whether there is disagreement among them on the issue of the trade agreement we're looking at.

4:30 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

I'm not aware of any disagreements among the major parties that are contesting the election with regard to moving forward on a free trade agreement with Canada or with regard to the general agreement on moving forward on the security and democracy policy that has, as I said, engendered this greater participation and monitoring by the international community. There seems to be bipartisan agreement moving forward.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Thank you.

I'm not sure if the chair will allow me to ask my other question, but you were at the subcommittee before, talking about Venezuela. There is an issue of concern, that a dual Canadian-Colombian, Dr. Cossio, in fact has been charged with espionage in Venezuela.

What is the department doing about this particular human rights situation? Are you looking at monitoring the situation?

4:30 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

I think, Mr. Silva, you're very aware that I'm unable to comment on such cases because of the privacy requirements.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

I thought I would ask.

4:30 p.m.

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

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Davenport, ON

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

But we are aware, and we are very much engaged.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Lee Richardson

Go ahead, Mr. Brison, quickly.