Evidence of meeting #43 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 trade.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

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12:40 p.m.

An hon. member

It's not Colombian.

12:40 p.m.

Senior Fellow, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa

Carlo Dade

This indeed is Colombian coffee, and certainly fair trade too.

In talking about the human rights assessment in Colombia, I think it's important to step back and frame it in the larger context of human rights agreements, impact assessments, and free trade agreements, especially as the committee will be considering other trade agreements in the future. Canada has a rigorous and vigorous policy of negotiating trade agreements. This issue will be coming up in the future, and now we have an excellent opportunity to talk about it.

I could also talk about the progress. Another side of the situation in Colombia is the outstanding progress the country has made in some areas of human rights. In fact they have made progress in what is probably the largest area of human rights and the one that impacts most severely the most people in Colombia. But given the interests of time, I'll save that for the end, or perhaps for a question.

On the general question of human rights impact assessments and trade agreements, there are a lot of statements in academia and elsewhere—and I'm sure this committee has heard quite a few—about how there is an automatic linkage, an incontrovertible linkage between trade agreements and human rights. That's actually not true. It's a subject of discussion both in academia and in the real world. The linkages are best described as the deputy commissioner for the European Commission did in testimony at the WTO. He said the EC does not feel that there are automatic linkages between human rights and trade agreements, that it depends upon the agreements, the countries involved, and how they're negotiated.

As an example, you can imagine two counties, say Sweden and Norway, and imagine that they did not have a trade agreement until recently, countries that have traded for centuries, whose markets are closely linked, countries whose human rights records are among the best in the world, examples for practically every country on the globe. A human rights impact assessment with this trade agreement would seem at best superfluous, and at worst simply a waste of time. But you can also imagine other instances in which human rights are directly impacted by trade. Historically, the most notable example is a decision by the British Empire to ban the slave trade. I can't think of a more obvious example of trade being linked to human rights issues.

What we see today, especially with the rise of conventions at the UN, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ILO conventions, and other conventions signed by a vast majority of countries around the globe, is that it's more and more difficult to find linkages that should be subject to considerations with trade agreements. Indeed, the issue of linking the two has, as I mentioned, become more and more controversial.

First, to understand this, it helps to step back and examine what trade agreements are exactly. The confusion about this then leads to confusion about the role of other factors, such as human rights. Essentially, trade agreements are attempts—and let me stress “attempts”—to give preference to trade between countries. This is done by reducing the cost of trade—cost in terms of transparent things such as tariffs and non-transparent things such as confidence for investments. The goal is to induce or incentivize trade, but a trade agreement in and of itself will not necessarily lead to an increase in trade.

The decision on whether or not to trade is made by individual forums for a host of reasons, of which a trade agreement can be one among many. With trade agreements, in essence you try to incentivize trade to create advantage or to negate advantage.

Take the example of Canada, Colombia, and the United States. This is a great example. Canada and the United States both trade with Colombia. Canada signs a free trade agreement with Colombia. Instantly, agricultural producers have a 16% price advantage on products going to Colombia. Canada has an advantage. The U.S. in record time turns around and signs an agreement with Colombia, not to gain advantage but to negate the advantage that Canada had, or to preserve market share.

This is an important point about trade agreements. We'll get back to this in a second; I just wanted to point that out in order to frame the discussion.

In terms of Canada and Colombia and the human rights assessment, what we've seen is what's referred to as a “staged” attempt to deal with issues relating to human rights. The agreement itself states that “a report on the operation of this Act during the previous calendar year, containing a general summary of all actions taken under the authority of this Act, and an analysis of the impact of these actions on human rights in Canada and the Republic of Colombia” shall cause to be submitted on a certain date.

The important thing here is the staging. The first attempt is to look at the specific measures of the agreement to see if any of the legal requirements will contravene duties or obligations on either country under standard human rights agreements, such as the UN universal declaration, or if these agreements will impinge the country's ability to follow through on these agreements.

That's not controversial. It's a fairly straightforward process—a legal review similar to what the countries do in constitutional courts or legal review courts for the agreements.

The second one is where we run into issues: an attempt to look at broader impacts of trade between the two countries. The problem should be as huge as it is readily apparent, and that is that it simply assumes facts not in evidence. That is to say that lowering the cost or risk of trade may—may—induce companies to trade. But if you're looking for the impacts of the agreement itself, you need then to demonstrate that the decisions to invest, the investment decisions and the trade decisions, are based upon the agreement.

Collinearity, or correlation, is not causality. Even a statistical-dependent relationship is not proof of causality. What you're doing with the agreement, in looking at the human rights assessment, is assuming causality where there is none. If you were to take this sort of argument to a court, you can imagine how quickly you would be bounced out of the court for bringing in this sort of argument.

One issue, then, is the issue with the human rights assessments and the attempts to link trade and human rights. The other is the issue of trade diversification, which is a major issue for people working on trade theory and trade relations.

The issue in the case of Colombia, as I mentioned, is seen in the context of U.S.-Canada-Colombia trade. If you remember, most of the arguments about the agreement and most of the discussions, especially the discussions in Washington, were about not increasing trade with Colombia—though there are cases, as Mr. Solano mentioned, where trade can increase—but about the impacts of this agreement. The discussions in Washington were about the U.S. losing market share to Canada.

The U.S. wheat producers issued a report stating that the U.S. was going to lose $100 million a year in wheat sales to Colombia—not new sales but current sales. You can see the issue. That's also not considered in the human rights impact assessment.

So it's causality in terms of the decision to trade and also trade diversification. These have huge impacts in terms of trying to come up with solutions to issues that you find, attaching causality, attaching blame, looking for responsible parties, and looking for mechanisms that are appropriate to deal with and rectify issues as they're discovered.

At the end of the day, with the Canada-Colombia agreement, what you're left with, essentially, in the human rights assessment is a discussion that seems increasingly divorced from reality—not the reality of the situation on the ground in Colombia, and not the fact that the Colombians.... And the Colombians have admitted that there is much work to be done in terms of the human rights identified in some of the reviews: right to decent work, right to rest and relaxation, right to education, education as a right that should be free, rights to health, those issues. No, the issue is causality, and being able to show a link to trade, something that just has not been done.

Why bother with sustainability assessments and human rights agreements? They're important, in that trade negotiations are an excellent occasion or moment to discuss issues tied to human rights associated with labour, work, and perhaps with intellectual property rights, but they are not the proper mechanism by which to deal with these issues. Separate agreements, separate discussions, separate mechanisms, technical assistance to work with governments prove more effective. This is an issue Canada is going to have to face, I think, in the near future, especially when we look out on the horizon at some of the coming trade negotiations.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership--how will we deal with human rights and human rights assessments when we have major players, stronger players, players that will be more demanding and will be less prone to agree to idiosyncratic whims and desires on the part of Canada? I'm not offering an opinion on that; I'm simply raising it as an issue that should be considered in light of deliberations, because it will have an impact on future negotiations and discussions of future agreements.

I'll leave it there, but I would be happy to talk about Colombia and the human rights situation in Colombia, and some things the committee hasn't heard and that are outside the traditional human rights framework and human rights institutions when they discuss the situation in Colombia.

Thank you very much.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

We thank all four of you for your presentations. They were very valuable. We've had to abbreviate the question and answer portion of the time, but we do have half an hour or a little bit more.

We'll start with Madame Papillon. The floor is yours.

June 12th, 2012 / 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank all of our guests. Thank you very much for being here.

Non-government members have repeatedly denounced the report submitted last May by the Conservative government. It really is a very superficial report. It does not address the human rights situation in Colombia. The methodology is vague, and there is no reference to opinions by UN human rights experts. The consultation was inadequate: neither Canadian nor Colombian civil society was consulted. In fact, there was no follow-up mechanism to help improve the situation after the agreement came into effect.

Mr. Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa, I would like to thank you for having tabled the study you conducted with other researchers. This study gives us several preliminary conclusions and it is much more substantial, in fact, than our report.

You say that the Colombian government has not produced any report on human rights. Is that true? I would also like to hear from you on that issue.

12:55 p.m.

Researcher, Escuela Nacional Sindical

Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa

That's right, there have been no documents or statements on the part of the Colombian government on this matter.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Very good.

It would be interesting to know what measures the Colombian government has taken to make Canadian companies operating in Colombia more socially responsible. We know that the problem is perhaps less about the legislation and more about the way the legislation is applied.

What follow-up mechanisms could be implemented to ensure that this agreement will help us move forward in the right direction?

12:55 p.m.

Researcher, Escuela Nacional Sindical

Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa

We propose with regard to monitoring, with regard to this type of agreement, that a specific organization be created to provide a report every year that looks at the situation that exists in the field in every community where there is a foreign corporate presence—in this case, Canada. We also want civil society to participate, organizations, NGOs....

Organizations should look into the situation independently, and they must examine the real situations in our country. For example, in Colombia, our report has not been widely disseminated so far. It's fairly recent, but we hope that over time we will be better known within Canadian civil society as well.

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Do you buy into the government's excuse that the flimsy report which was submitted was due to the lack of available data on the ground and the lack of time to prepare the report?

1 p.m.

Researcher, Escuela Nacional Sindical

Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa

I think we'd have to start by pointing out that when the agreement went into effect there was a commitment made, and we are in the same situation, but despite that we decided to create a baseline that would serve as a parameter for measuring the effects of the agreement in the future. So given the fact that the Colombian government did not present any report and the Canadian government produced the report it did, a non-report, civil society in Canada and Colombia is disappointed, particularly with the Colombian government.

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Madame Papillon.

1 p.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

I have a straightforward question about protecting Canadian investors. You rightly talked about it, Ms. Moore. It is important to protect our Canadian investors. We must make sure that they will not help to maintain the situation, that they do not encourage or profit from it. Can you tell us a little more about that?

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

I'll allow a very short answer, Ms. Moore.

1 p.m.

Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada

Jennifer Moore

Our perspective is that this agreement has strengthened the current legislative framework for Canadian investors in Colombia, particularly speaking about the mining sector, and that civil society in Colombia, together with organizations here in Canada, are identifying serious risks to indigenous and Afro-Colombian lands and to vital sources of water.

The way in which mining concessions have been granted quite carelessly across much of Colombian territory means that there is dangerous overlap with vital sources of water, with ancestral lands of Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples, and entire communities that currently make their living from activities such as small-scale mining.

One of the cases explored within the Colombian report, which you may have read already, would involve the entire displacement of a community that has relied, for some 400 years, on small-scale mining investments in order to make way for a Canadian company that would, in a period of 20 years, basically exploit all of the gold reserves in this area and then presumably walk away, putting effectively thousands of people out of work and displacing an indigenous community as well that's not been fairly consulted on that project, and potentially having serious impacts on sources of water that flow into the Cauca River, which is one of the main water supplies in the country. That's just one example.

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

Mr. Holder, the floor is yours. You have five minutes.

1 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder London West, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'd like to thank our guests for being here today.

Ms. Moore, may I ask, are you a member of a political party?