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

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Lee Richardson

Welcome to the eleventh meeting of this session of the Standing Committee on International Trade.

Today we are beginning our review, pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, of the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

We're going to begin the study of this bill with a briefing from witnesses from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Department of Finance, and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development.

I think we'll begin right away and deal with other business when the witnesses have completed their testimony and questioning.

To begin with, we have David Plunkett back. Mr. Plunkett is the chief trade negotiator for bilateral and regional relations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Also from the department, we have Alexandra Bugailiskis, the assistant deputy minister of Latin America and the Caribbean, who has been with us before; and Matthew Kronby, the director general of the trade law bureau.

Visiting with us again, from the Department of Finance, is the director of the international trade policy division, Carol Nelder-Corvari. Thank you for coming back.

From the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, we have the director of bilateral and regional labour affairs, Pierre Bouchard. Welcome, Pierre.

Who's going to begin?

Mr. Plunkett will begin with an opening statement, perhaps followed by some brief remarks.

3:35 p.m.

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to appear before this committee and speak to Bill C-2, an act to implement the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the parallel agreements on labour cooperation and the environment.

This Bill implements the legal framework and legislative amendments required to deepen the economic and social relationship between Colombia and Canada.

You've already identified my colleagues who are with me. As you may be aware, Carol Nelder-Corvari is also our chief negotiator for this deal.

Canada and Colombia currently have a significant commercial relationship, with trade in excess of $1.3 billion and hundreds of Canadian companies doing business with Colombia. Key Canadian products such as cereals, including wheat and barley, machinery, pulse crops, paper, and motor vehicles are key exports to Colombia, and ensuring their continued competitiveness was a key reason for pursuing an agreement with Colombia.

Under this free trade agreement, Colombia will eliminate tariffs on nearly all Canadian exports. Their removal is important for Canadian exporters, particularly given that Colombia has concluded other trade agreements with key Canadian competitors such as the United States and Europe. By implementing this agreement, our exporters will have a competitive advantage to continue to grow in this market, particularly if Canada’s agreement is implemented before the United States and Europe implement their own deals.

Before turning to other benefits for Canadian businesses, it is important to highlight a recent market access development. On April 9, 2010, ministers Van Loan and Ritz announced that Colombia had reopened its market to Canadian cattle. This announcement followed Colombia’s January 2010 decision to reopen its market to Canadian beef. Canadian beef and cattle exports had previously been banned from the Colombian market due to BSE. Canadian industry has responded very positively to Colombia's decision to resume trade, and this development will complement the tariff reductions negotiated by Carol and her team in this agreement.

Moving beyond trade in goods, this agreement will lead to new commercial opportunities for our investors and service providers. Over 50 Canadian companies have invested in Colombia, principally in the mining, oil and gas exploration, and manufacturing sectors. In 2009, the stock of Canadian investment in Colombia reached approximately $773 million. These investments are leading the way for exports of Canadian-made machinery such as mining equipment and heavy transportation equipment. Once the FTA is implemented, a stable legal framework will be in place for Canadian investors in Colombia.

Canadian services exports to Colombia are in the area of $40 million to $50 million a year and are concentrated in the financial, mining, engineering, and petroleum extraction sectors. Upon implementation, Canadian service providers will be treated the same as Colombian service providers and will enjoy a secure, predictable, transparent, and rules-based trading system. Moreover, Canada obtained the same level of market access from Colombia as they provided to the United States. As a result, Canadian service suppliers will be on a level playing field with their American counterparts in Colombia.

As a comprehensive free trade agreement, obligations are also contained in the agreement on a wide variety of other subjects including financial services, government procurement, electronic commerce, telecommunications, and temporary entry of business persons. While these subjects may not be in the forefront of discussions regarding the benefits of the trade agreement, they are important components to ensuring that Canadian businesses are able to operate efficiently and competitively in the Colombian market.

As you are aware, in keeping with Canada's approach to free trade agreements, environmental and labour aspects of the economic integration were addressed through agreements on labour and environment. These important agreements contain strong obligations and clearly demonstrate that for Canada and Colombia, trade liberalization does not come at the expense of labour rights and the environment.

To conclude my part, Canadian businesses are not alone in recognizing opportunities in Colombia. In a World Bank study, Doing Business 2010, Colombia ranks as one of the top 10 business environment reformers. It ranked 37th in the category of “ease of doing business”, and it also ranked fifth out of 183 countries with regard to its ability to protect investor rights through the application of the rule of law. Clearly this is a country where opportunities for businesses are only going to increase.

Overall, the free trade agreement will strengthen our bilateral commercial relationship. This agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across Canada, many of whom have appeared before this committee. This is a high-quality and comprehensive trade agreement, and it will allow Canadian businesses to compete and excel in the Colombian market.

3:40 p.m.

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to add to the remarks of my colleague and to provide some insight on Canada's broader engagement in Colombia.

Canada has a long-standing, rich, and diverse connection to Colombia that includes a broad range of academic, cultural, and civil society exchanges. As we have reiterated over the course of this debate, we believe that trade and investment relationships serve to broaden this exchange in promoting shared values and best practices and creating new opportunities for people and communities to thrive and prosper.

Colombia has made important strides and shown great resilience toward mitigating the effects of the conflict that has plagued the country for decades. While annual statistics on human rights violations may fluctuate year to year, what we need to focus on is the overall trends, where from 2002 to 2009 Colombia has, according to most sources, including the United Nations and well-respected civil society organizations, greatly improved its performance in important areas such as the general security situation, violence towards unionists and community leaders, homicides, and kidnappings. This progress has been recognized by the international community and international organizations that are present in Colombia.

Colombia has an established democracy, a growing economy, strong institutions, and well organized and extensive civil society. The Government of Colombia has demonstrated its commitment to meeting the challenges it faces through transparent engagement and partnership with the international community. Colombia was the first Latin American country to invite the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to establish a field presence in the country. It has been present in the country since 1997. They have gone further and extended an open invitation to UN Special Procedures. As a result, in 2009 alone, Colombia received four UN Special Rapporteurs: one on extrajudicial executions, one on human rights defenders, one on the independence of the judiciary and one on indigenous peoples. This transparency and openness on the part of the Colombian government to evaluation is unprecedented.

Canada has a close working relationship with both the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, also present in Colombia. We receive regular updates on the human rights situation, and over the last three years, through CIDA, we have contributed to strengthening the capacity of the state and civil society to respond to the plight of internally displaced people. This includes helping to improve government policies and services to better respond to the needs of Colombia's most vulnerable and improving access to relevant and effective programs, while also strengthening mechanisms for the protection and realization of constitutionally enshrined rights.

United Nations agencies are convinced that real progress in this regard is being made by Colombia's national government, and this is thanks in part to Canadian support.

Though many challenges remain, Canada, the UN, the OAS and many other international partners are supporting Colombia's efforts to meet these challenges. Pursuing increased trade relations is only part of this process.

In addition to our efforts to promote greater prosperity and opportunity for Colombians, Canada has substantial development and peace and security programming activities through our Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, which in turn complements the programs provided by CIDA. Canada's efforts in Colombia aim to reduce inequality and poverty and to strengthen peace-building efforts and respect for human rights. These efforts have amounted to $18 million since 2006.

These programs have helped promote peace and reconciliation in Colombia and the region, protect victims' rights and strengthen the country's transitional justice system. Projects also provide vital support to protect the rights of vulnerable groups including women, indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians.

In recent years we've seen that the Government of Colombia has taken positive steps that demonstrate its continued efforts to curb violence against trade unionists and fight impunity for the perpetrators of such crimes. Indeed, after her visit to Colombia in October 2008, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, while expressing her ongoing concern for the vulnerability of trade unionists, said she was impressed by the increased expenditure on government programs to protect and support vulnerable groups.

One of our current projects, through our stabilization and reconstruction task force, is a program coordinated by the United Nations development program. It will present recommendations to help minimize the impact of violence against union leaders and organized union members and seek improvements to the legislation protecting them. The project, which involves the participation of government, unions, and the international community, consists of a series of studies conducted by six reputable NGOs and peer-reviewed by the National University of Colombia on the nature of violence against trade union members in Colombia. Recommendations for public policy and protection programs for unionists will then be derived from these studies.

Canada is also supporting Colombia through the implementation of labour-related technical assistance projects to promote and enforce internationally recognized labour standards, particularly in the areas of labour inspection, social dialogue, enforcement of labour rights and occupational safety and health.

We also seek to partner with likeminded countries who have an interest in Colombia, to better leverage our efforts. To that end, Canada is an active member of the Group of 24, a group of countries which encourages and facilitates dialogue between the Government of Colombia and international and national civil society organizations working in the country. Within this group, Canada also actively participates in the human rights sub-committee, which focuses on improving conditions for human rights defenders and engaging with other sectors that have been directly affected by violence.

I've mentioned in the past to the committee the importance and the level of dialogue we're able to have with the Colombians on human rights issues. Not only does our embassy in Colombia closely monitor the human rights situation on the ground, but we also regularly raise issues concerning human rights in meetings with Colombian officials at the very highest levels. Most recently in December of 2009 the Minister of State for the Americas, Peter Kent, met with Colombia's foreign minister, Jaime Bermúdez, at which time they discussed human rights. That same month, our deputy minister of foreign affairs, Len Edwards, also travelled to Colombia for political-level consultations.

Whenever Canadian officials meet with their Colombian counterparts, we endeavour to ensure that human rights are on the agenda. The mature relationship Canada has with Colombia allows us to maintain this open and frank dialogue on human rights with the Colombian government at the most senior levels. As you know, our first successful round of bilateral human rights consultations took place last July, and we're currently exploring dates for this year's consultations. Both Canada and Colombia are committed to holding these consultations on an annual basis.

I'd like to close by saying that there remain great challenges to peace, security, and human rights in Colombia. We continue to monitor the situation closely and react immediately when violations take place. However, we recognize that the Government of Colombia is making efforts to improve the situation, and Canada wants to support those efforts. A strong social and economic foundation and respect for human rights are goals that Canada will continue to help reinforce in Colombia.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Lee Richardson

Thank you. That's a very good update and précis, and with some very interesting new material. I appreciate it.

We're going to begin our questioning this time with Mr. Cannis, the vice-chairman.

3:50 p.m.


John Cannis Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Welcome to all our guests.

Mr. Chairman, I'm going to take maybe two minutes for my opening remarks, and Mr. Brison will take the rest.

I listened very carefully to both statements. I want to say that about a month and a half ago, we were able to meet with a minister from Colombia. I think her name was Minister Mejia. She was very thorough in giving us actual data on some of the progress that's been made, which you touched upon today. I thank you for confirming this.

I really have one question for both Mr. Plunkett and Ms. Bugailiskis.

You said, sir, to conclude your statement, that “Canadian businesses are not alone in recognizing the opportunities in Colombia.”

In your statement as well, ma'am, you said, “to partner with likeminded countries”.

Well, “to partner with likeminded countries”: should we be delaying ratification of this agreement, would we be losing the opportunity, or that edge, to partner with like-minded countries to progress positively forward?

And to you, Mr. Plunkett, should we be delaying the ratification of this agreement, would Canada be losing some kind of edge, some kind of opportunity?

I'm trying to tie it together in a way similar to the way we lost the competitive edge, if I can use those words, when it came to CAFTA. We didn't ratify it; the United States ratified it by, I think, one vote; now we are, I think, trying to get back to the table. But we lost that competitiveness, if you will...or that, “Hey, we've got the Americans onside now, let's keep talking with the Canadians, and we'll see.”

We know that the Colombians are moving positively forward with other trade agreements. Should they be ratifying with Europe and other countries, once those agreements are ratified, how will our position be going to the table as a country?

3:50 p.m.

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

David Plunkett

I'm dredging my memory here, but soon after I took on this position, as I recall this committee put out a report about Canada's free trade agenda more generally. One of the recommendations the committee put forward was that we needed to be pursuing an aggressive trade policy on a bilateral front to make sure we weren't being disadvantaged and that we were taking advantages where they were. This particular case and that of Peru, I think--again from my memory--were being used at the time as examples of where the Americans were ahead of us and we needed to get on with it and try to catch up.

In that regard, I think we are fulfilling the committee's own recommendations, and it certainly is consistent with the approach the government has been pushing for some time now.

There are going to be instances where we're actually ahead of our competition. For example, in the EFTA deal, which we brought in a few months ago, we're ahead of the Americans. That gives our producers a bit of a competitive edge. At other times, we are trying to level the playing field, etc.

So it depends on each market, but where there are opportunities for which business is pushing us to get into a given market—in this case, Colombia—we think it's important that we push forward.

3:55 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

I don't have much to add to what my colleague has already stated, but we are aware intensely of the U.S. interest in completing its free trade agreement with Colombia. In fact, Defense Secretary Gates just made an announcement yesterday about continued support for Colombia, not only in the area of security but, obviously in what he thinks is helpful as well, on the trade process. The EU is also in consultations.

I wouldn't look at it necessarily from a total economic point of view, but I would think that movement on a free trade agreement is extremely helpful just in that level of engagement and the ability to formalize what is already a very fruitful broad exchange and being able to institutionalize some of the dialogues as well.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Lee Richardson

Mr. Brison.

3:55 p.m.


Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you very much.

I thank you very much for being with us today. Whenever we have you here, it reminds us of the tremendously high quality of public service we have in Canada and the quality of people we have in our foreign service.

I want to recognize Ambassador des Rivières, who has been a tremendous partner to members of this committee, for her work as well.

As you know, there will be an amendment tabled at this committee. The government has agreed to support a Liberal amendment that will require a prior written agreement between the governments of Canada and Colombia whereby each country, both Canada and Colombia, will provide annual reports to their respective parliaments on the impact of this FTA on human rights in both Canada and Colombia. Just to make it clear, both countries will be reporting on human rights in both Colombia and Canada.

Your former deputy minister of foreign affairs, Peter Harder, has said the amendment is a

significant innovation in free trade agreements in that it provides both the Colombian and Canadian legislatures the opportunity to annually review and assess the human rights implications of the agreement. I expect that future parliaments will build on this precedent when they consider proposed free trade agreements.

It has also received support from civil society leaders in Colombia and union and labour leaders in Colombia.

I'd like to ask you about the capacity within DFAIT to research, to gather information, and to report on that information respecting human rights in other countries, in countries particularly with whom we have free trade agreements and as it would pertain to Colombia.

I'd also like to ask about the degree to which you work with civil society and NGOs in the collection and gathering of that information, because we want to make sure that NGOs and civil society have an opportunity to feed into and to provide information that helps shape these reports.

3:55 p.m.

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

Alexandra Bugailiskis

Thank you very much for that question.

We take very seriously our obligations, whether in Colombia or in other parts of the region: the necessity to monitor, survey, report, and more importantly, I think, to build capacity within civil society to ensure that they're able to keep their countries fresh and very solidly democratic.

Our embassy in Colombia is a good-sized mission. The total Canadian staff is about 23. We have about 68 of what we call locally engaged staff. They're already extremely involved and busy with regard to monitoring the human rights situation.

I can show you this book, which is full, from just the past few months, of the reports that we receive.

They are very much engaged with non-governmental organizations, Canadian, international, and local. I asked the other day what the latest tally was. I have a very extensive list here of organizations that they meet with on a regular basis. In the last 13 months, they told me, they had 371 meetings with NGOs. That would be more than one a day, I would suspect. So they're extremely active.

We're also reorganizing within the department to be able to put even more emphasis on democratic reporting. We've established within the region what we call the Andean unit for democracy. It's located in Lima, but it's a regional resource. It's an ability to bring greater expertise to bear and to assist missions in their efforts to monitor human rights, and more importantly to look for niches in which Canada can be helpful. In my presentation I was pointing out some of the excellent programming that I think we're doing with the Colombian government.

I'm very confident in the ability of the embassy to continue to play a very active role in engagement in monitoring themselves personally, but also of course in collecting information from the various organizations, civil society as well as international.

4 p.m.


Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

When this report is tabled to Parliament on an annual basis, it will come to committees—perhaps to this committee on trade, or to the human rights committee—and at that time we will probably have you back as the public servants who would have been involved in the shaping of that report. We'll also hear from some of the NGOs about that report. It will give us an opportunity on an annual basis to discuss human rights in Colombia both in Parliament and at the committee level, so I think it's important that there be good, solid engagement of the NGO community during the writing of those reports. We don't want to see a significant delta between the NGO community's views on this and the government's views on it. To the extent that it's possible to bring together a consensus, I think it's going to be very important for the credibility of that reporting as we go forward.

One question I have on human rights in Venezuela--

4 p.m.


The Chair Lee Richardson

Thank you, Mr. Brison. That's 10 minutes.

4 p.m.


Scott Brison Kings—Hants, NS

Oh, I'm sorry. Thank you.

4 p.m.


The Chair Lee Richardson

Monsieur Laforest.

April 22nd, 2010 / 4 p.m.


Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all of the witnesses for coming here to share information with us.

Getting back to what Mr. Brison said, it corresponds to the first question I had in mind. It has todo with the amendment he said he was planning to move. He indicated that he would be putting forward to the committee an amendment having to do with an evaluation that the minister would present every year to the House. I would like to know how the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade can carry out this evaluation while being as impartial as possible.

Will you consult with the unions on these matters? Do you evaluate the level of control that the Colombian government has over the paramilitary forces? Do you assess the overall situation and any improvements that may have occurred? Does someone travel to the country? Would you also be open to recommendations from the committee as to the persons who should be consulted in Colombia or will you merely be providing us with a list of persons that you will be selecting? Would you be open to the idea of the committee providing you with a list of persons that should be consulted?