Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of Parliament, Canadian government officials, and guests.
Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to deliver my testimony via teleconference from Panama City, Panama.
Since its inception in 2007, the Environmental Advocacy Centre--Centro de Incidencia Ambiental, CIAM--our country's leading environmental law centre, has provided pro bono legal representation before government agencies, national courts and international human rights bodies to persons and indigenous communities affected or potentially affected by Canadian mining companies. At the same time, CIAM advocates for a stronger environmental law and policy framework that could prevent conflict through meaningful citizen participation, public consultation, and access to information, and provides citizens with the appropriate remedies should conflict arise.
As part of our mission, we felt it was important to make sure that the standing committee could listen to the views of the Panamanian communities that we represent. We hope this may allow the Canadian Parliament to adopt a more informed decision on whether or not the FTA between Panama and Canada should be ratified as submitted.
During the course of this testimony, I will make reference to two specific sections of the FTA that have cast serious doubt in Panama. They are the so-called environmental agreement and the investment agreement. The so-called environmental agreement, in chapter seventeen of the FTA, is made up of three articles that amount to a non-binding declaration of principles or good intentions. It then constitutes a non-self-executing treaty, the implementation of which relies on political will.
In fact, due to the lack of political will shown by both the Panamanian government and Canadian mining companies, we find it quite difficult to believe that the so-called environment agreement will allow Panama to pursue high levels of environmental protection and to continue to develop and improve its environmental laws and policies, based on the following:
One, Panama is not adequately enforcing its environmental laws. In fact, during the first year of the current government administration, the number of communities or individuals seeking legal advice from CIAM owing to environmental non-compliance or lack of enforcement has doubled in comparison with the previous two years.
Two, Panama is following a pattern of weakening current regulations while disregarding international standards and environmental protection in order to encourage trade or investment. In fact, our government has publicly committed to amending whatever laws are necessary to allow companies owned by foreign governments to invest in Panama's mining sector, even though this would require a constitutional reform. A Canadian company, Inmet Mining Corporation, has entered a financial agreement with a company owned by the Government of Singapore that depends on this legal reform.
Three, Panama has not provided a remedy to communities affected by the violation of environmental laws. For instance, there are three pending lawsuits filed by CIAM with the Supreme Court of Panama against the Molejón gold mine. Its construction began in 2005 without an environmental impact assessment. Owners at the time were three Canadian companies: Inmet, Teck, and Petaquilla Minerals. One of these cases has been sitting in court for more than a year waiting for its final decision.
Four, Panama has systematically denied the right of access to information on environmental and social impacts. Over the last three years, CIAM has filed 19 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits based on unanswered or denied FOIA requests. For instance, CIAM formally requested a digital copy of the EIA on Inmet's Cobre Panama copper mine. The government denied this request, while the company sent it to CIAM only after we complained about it at the UN conference on sustainable development and mining held in New York City last October, which, of course, Inmet did not attend.
The public hearing on the EIA was held November 26, and the recent comments were due December 6, but it has been quite difficult for communities and NGOs to go through a 14,500-page EIA written in very technical language, and seriously flawed, in such a short period of time.
Five, Panama actively sought to get rid of the EIA requirement by passing Law 30 last June. It is true that this act was repealed by Law 65 last October; however, draft regulations for the new law need to be submitted for public participation in order to define which projects will no longer require an EIA. This fact shows that the level of environmental protection provided by an EIA has effectively decreased.
Six, Panama has allowed environmentally and socially irresponsible companies to invest in our mining sector. For example, an Inmet subsidiary tried unsuccessfully to avoid EIA regulations by suing against them, alleging that their contract was the only law applicable. A successor company, Minera Panama, also owned by Inmet, is trying to overturn a resolution creating the Donoso protected area in 2008, which surrounds the Molejón gold mine and the Cobre Panama copper mine.
Seven, Panama has allowed, and continues to allow, such irresponsible companies to destroy an important portion of our incredible biodiversity. Actually, most of the area under the Petaquilla concession contract, including Inmet's Cobre Panama copper mine, was primary forest until construction of the Molejón gold mine started without an EIA in 2005, in violation of Panamanian law.
According to chapter 5 of the government's final technical proposal for the establishment of the Donoso protected area, more than 80% is still covered by forest, and the following biodiversity can be found: no less than 18 protected floral species, 8 protected mammals, 335 endangered birds, 67 endangered amphibians, and 12 endangered reptiles. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to build a 90,000- to 100,000-tonnes-per-day operation to produce around 200,000 tonnes of copper per year--all of this within the Donoso protected area, within the Gulf of Mosquitoes--an important bird area--and within the Meso-American biological corridor--without severely affecting this pristine forest.
Eight, Panama is not respecting the traditional practices of indigenous communities. Our government recently amended the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous research act and sponsored their internal elections for the first time, which were boycotted by more than 70% of the electorate. It all happened as our government announced its intention to open Cerro Colorado, one of the largest copper mines in the world, located within the Ngöbe-Buglé region.
Nine, unlike other FTAs such as NAFTA and CAFTA, this agreement provides no specific mechanisms to local communities against these violations.
I will now briefly refer to the investment agreement in chapter nine of the FTA.
In order to bring fairness to international trade, CIAM firmly believes that developing countries like Panama need better trading conditions, which in turn may help them to achieve important goals such as environmental sustainability and social justice.
Unfortunately, we regret to say that this does not seem to be the case with the FTA between Panama and Canada in its 36-page investment agreement. It is a well-established fact that the vast majority of Canadian investments in Panama are currently allocated within the mining sector. Therefore, we may validly conclude that the investment agreement has been tailored to benefit Canadian mining companies, which under the current Panama mining code pay royalties of only 3% to 4% of their net profit. These companies also benefit from numerous tax breaks and tax exemptions.
In contrast, environmental damage caused by the loss of forest coverage and water resources associated with the Molejón gold mine has been estimated at $52.7 million U.S.
Another Canadian mining company, Pacific Rim, has just bought the El Remance mining project in Panama. Pacific Rim sued the Republic of El Salvador under the investor-state arbitration mechanism of the Central American free trade agreement, CAFTA, because the Salvadoran government did not issue an exploitation permit after the company failed to comply with legal requirements.
Based on all of the foregoing, CIAM requests the standing committee not to recommend the ratification of the FTA between Panama and Canada until this aspect has been renegotiated by both parties with prior informed consent from affected or potentially affected communities, considering the fact that both executive branches included a provision in the FTA that prohibits both legislative branches from formulating reservations at the time of ratification.
I thank you for your attention and look forward to answering your questions.