Evidence of meeting #30 for International Trade in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agreement.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Jeff Vogt  Legal Advisor, Department of Human and Trade Union Rights, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
  • Theresa McClenaghan  Executive Director and Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association
  • Charles Kernaghan  Director, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights

11:50 a.m.

Legal Advisor, Department of Human and Trade Union Rights, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

Jeff Vogt

I do not know what the position of the federation is on that issue. I know, though, that since Jordan entered into an FTA with the United States, the QIZs have shrunk substantially in size. So I think there was an indication that this would be a lifeline to the garment industry in Jordan, but that turned out not to be the case. I can't speak on behalf of the Jordanians on this legislation.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Very well.

Speaking of the U.S., I have a question for you. It has to do with the very principle of side agreements on labour. The free-trade agreement with the U.S. does not include a side agreement on labour, but the main trade agreement contains some labour clauses.

In light of the U.S.'s experience, do you think that the part on labour in the Canada-Jordan agreement should be included in the main document? Would that help things? Can side agreements really be implemented?

11:55 a.m.

Legal Advisor, Department of Human and Trade Union Rights, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

Jeff Vogt

I think the real question is, what are both the standards and the dispute mechanisms that are available in such circumstances? I think the reason why there was such an outcry on the labour provisions of the NAFTA was that you had a very obviously substandard set of dispute resolution processes under the side agreements, whereas I think if you move the text within the agreement but still have a tie to a different or lesser set of dispute settlement mechanisms, you're not really accomplishing much.

For example, in the case of CAFTA, in the United States, you had the labour provisions moving from the outside to the inside, but it also had a kind of second-tier dispute settlement mechanism. You actually weren't gaining much by the fact that it was in the agreement because you had a lesser dispute settlement mechanism.

I think what is important is that you have high standards, that those standards are fully enforceable, and that sanctions are available in a case where one of the parties is not living up to its commitment under the agreement.

I think the U.S.-Jordan free trade agreement is an example. Both parties entered into that agreement. At the time, it had probably the strongest labour provisions available, yet the labour laws were not compliant from day one. Still, many years later, there remain issues, fewer than before but there are issues, and we still have many problems with implementation—

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

We'll have to move on to the next questioner now.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Chair, I just want to make sure that the information with regard to the condition of women and child workers will be forwarded to this committee.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

We actually should ask the next questioner that question. I think you would probably get more direct and firsthand information.

Mr. Shory.

March 29th, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you witnesses as well.

Mr. Chair, everyone knows that this government has an ambitious trade agenda, because we strongly believe that trade creates jobs and also provides opportunities for businesses, specifically for SMEs. That in turn creates jobs here in Canada. I believe this is a win-win situation. This free trade agreement will benefit both Canada and Jordan by opening markets for Canadian and Jordanian exporters, by providing unprecedented access to our respective markets, and by eliminating tariffs on a number of key products.

Mr. Chair, I don't understand the NDP's position that by opening new markets we will lose the jobs here in Canada. It's quite funny that during the leadership convention last week they hired a Spanish company over a Canadian company. Perhaps they need to “walk the talk”.

My question is for Mr. Vogt. Just as in the case of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, we believe that engagement with Jordan through free trade will help raise the standard of living and improve Jordan's labour and environmental standards. However, the NDP believe “the only way we will get countries like Colombia to elevate their standards of labour and human rights is by not allowing them to play in that sandbox of globalized capital trade”.

We have seen improvements in Colombia since we signed the free trade agreement with Colombia. My question is—

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Get very quickly to your question.

Noon

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

—do you believe, as in the case of Colombia, that labour and environmental standards will be improved with the signing of the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement?

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

We have time for a very quick answer.

Noon

Legal Advisor, Department of Human and Trade Union Rights, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)

Jeff Vogt

I think at this moment—and this could be said about the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement—you have substantial leverage prior to entering into an agreement to try to encourage the other country to live up to its legal obligations under the FTA. Once the FTA is ratified, there's usually a reluctance on the part of the governments to vigorously enforce labour clauses once the agreement is in force. I think withholding, in the U.S. context, the FTA with Colombia created substantial leverage, which over time led to the ability to negotiate a pretty extensive—not perfect, but extensive—labour action plan that the Colombian government is moving to implement, again not fully, and certainly with issues.

But in the case of U.S.-Jordan, just signing the agreement did not lead to worker rights being respected. It was only after a major exposé in The New York Times and a trade complaint against Jordan that we began to see some progress being made.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much, Mr. Vogt and Ms. McClenaghan, for your testimony and for your answers to the questions.

That brings us to the end of this segment of our committee. We will set up now for the next presenter.

I appreciate your time with us. Have a good day.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

I call the meeting back to order.

We had a little technical hiccup in our video conferencing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Charles Kernaghan, you are with us from the Institute of Global Labour and Human Rights. Are we coming through all right?

12:05 p.m.

Charles Kernaghan Director, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights

Very good. Fine.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

There seems to be a bit of a delay, but let's try it and see how you make out.

We want to thank you for coming to the committee and testifying with regard to Bill C-23, the Jordan-Canada free trade agreement.

The floor is yours, sir.