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Evidence of meeting #42 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 colombia.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kerry Buck  Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Jean-Benoît Leblanc  Director, Trade Policy and Negotiations Division I, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Alex Neve  Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada, Amnesty International
Hassan Yussuff  Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

We'll start the meeting. Some of the other members will be on their way, but nonetheless we have quorum and can start.

I'm glad to see you here, Madame Papillon.

We are studying the report on the operation of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.

We have with us, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Kerry Buck. I believe you're going to do the presentation. Thank you for being here. I'll yield you the floor, and maybe you can introduce the rest of your panel and carry on with the presentation.

11:30 a.m.

Kerry Buck Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to provide some insight into Canada's engagement with Colombia. I'm very pleased to join you today to add to the standing committee's consideration of Canada's first “Annual Report Pursuant to the Agreement concerning Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Columbia”.

As the Prime Minister noted in his visit last year to Colombia, diversifying trade is central to Canada's outreach to its hemispheric neighbours. Since 2006, Canadian ministers have paid 175 visits to Latin American countries. Canada has signed, or is now negotiating, free trade agreements with more than 20 countries in the Americas. Colombia is an important partner in our engagement in the Americas.

Canada and Colombia enjoy a longstanding, robust, and multifaceted relationship. Our two countries are celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties this coming year. I really would like to emphasize to the committee the breadth, maturity, and closeness of the Canada-Colombia relationship. Our political relations are very strong. We've had numerous high-level exchanges: with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Labour, and Minister of State Ablonczy. They've all met with their Colombian counterparts on numerous occasions. We hold regular officials-level consultations to share views and exchange information on political relations, trade and investment, human rights, security, and defence policy. Colombia is an important like-minded partner in the Americas, and we cooperate in multilateral organizations to promote shared goals. Our two countries share strong and growing person-to-person ties through expanding commercial ventures, academic and cultural links, and migration.

Of course, a major milestone in our bilateral relationship was the signing of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Canada's prosperity is linked to reaching beyond our borders for economic opportunities that serve to grow Canada's trade and investment. Concluding trade agreements is one of the key actions the government can take to maintain and open new market opportunities for Canadian business. Canada believes that open markets create jobs and economic growth.

Canada therefore continues to actively pursue a broad and ambitious protrade plan to create new trade and investment opportunities, particularly with large, dynamic and fast-growing economies such as Colombia.

Colombia is a dynamic emerging market with a population of 48 million and an economy with high growth potential. It is a strategic destination for Canadian direct investment. Canada is of the firm belief that our free trade agreement will bring dividends to both Canada and Colombia. Canadian companies now account for some 60% of Colombia's extractive industry output, and Canadian financial institutions have become key players in the Colombian market.

At the same time as we signed our free trade agreement, we signed side agreements on labour and the environment in order to ensure that trade liberalization, labour standards and environmental protection are mutually supportive. It is important to highlight the tremendous opportunities this agreement creates for Canadian businesses in Colombia.

The elimination of tariffs on Canadian exports helps make Canadian goods more competitive in a range of sectors including mining, agriculture and agri-food products. It creates a level playing field for Canadian business vis-a-vis their competitors who are benefiting from preferential market access terms. It also provides enhanced market access for Canadian service providers in areas such as finance, engineering, the environment, mining, oil and gas, and construction services.

At the same time, Canadian investments are creating opportunities for Colombians. More than 70 Canadian companies are creating jobs and wealth in Colombia in oil, gas, mining, the financial sector, education, footwear, food processing, satellite technology, legal services, and more.

Due to our unique and multifaceted relationship with Colombia, the Agreement concerning Annual Reports on Human Rights and Free Trade between Canada and the Republic of Colombia was signed in May 2010. It entered into force on August 15, 2011, at the same time as the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or CCOFTA. As you know, under the agreement, Canada and Colombia are required to each draft separate annual reports for deposit in our respective legislatures on the effects of CCOFTA on human rights in both countries. Canada's obligations under the agreement are incorporated into domestic law through the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.

Under the implementation act, Canada is required to report based on information from the previous calendar year. CCOFTA came into force on August 15, 2011, and therefore only entered into force for the last four and a half months of 2011. As such, the calendar-year threshold wasn't met, but there was insufficient data available to undertake a comprehensive analysis of this short timeframe. This year's report therefore focuses on outlining the methodological steps to be used in future years.

Then the full period from August 15, 2011 to December 31 , 2012 will be analysed in the next report, to be tabled in 2013.

Allow me to turn to human rights, an important facet of the Canada-Colombia relationship. Challenges remain, but the Colombian government has made important progress on human rights and is working closely with the international community to advance the domestic human rights situation.

Canada is among many partners committed to the advancement of human rights in Colombia. We believe that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way to support continued positive change. Through our interactions, including commercial ties, Canada is sharing its values of respect for democracy and human rights.

Canada has a high-level, open and frank dialogue on human rights with our Colombian friends, between our heads of government and ministers, as well as at the officials level. We also work closely with the Colombian government, as well as with communities, trade unions, civil society, partner donor countries, multilateral organizations and other stakeholders to advance respect for human rights.

For example, of the $130 million in programming that Canada has provided to Colombia since 2006 through CIDA and through DFAIT's global peace and security fund, over $41 million has focused on human rights and justice-related projects. We're also currently the largest donor to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' office in Colombia, with a contribution of $8 million over 4 years.

Canada remains committed to supporting the improvement of the human rights situation in Colombia. We will continue to engage Colombia at the highest levels on human rights, monitor developments on the ground, work with civil society and the international community to promote human rights, and provide concrete cooperation and advocacy in this regard.

Mr. Chair, I would like to close by saying that Canada believes that increased interaction with Colombia, including through our bilateral free trade agreement, allows Canada to better share its values of respect for human rights and democracy while also increasing mutual prosperity.

I would be pleased to take any questions. My colleagues Sylvain Fabi, acting Director General of the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau at DFAIT; Jean-Benoît Leblanc, Director of Trade Policy and Negotiations at DFAIT; James Junke, Director of Human Rights and Governance Policy at DFAIT; and Pierre Bouchard, Director of Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs at HRSDC, are also present to assist in answering questions in their areas of expertise.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak with you today.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much for your presentation and for your panel of experts being here. I'm sure it will stimulate thoughtful questions. We're just going to do one round of seven minutes each. We'll go a little past 12 o'clock. That will cut into the next hour, but that's the way it will be.

Mr. Davies, the floor is yours.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for being here.

Ms. Buck, you are aware that the human rights situation in Colombia was a serious concern, as we debated in the House prior to the passing of this free trade agreement. Would you agree with that?

11:40 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

We have long worked with Colombia on human rights issues. We have been very clear about some of the human rights challenges that the Government of Colombia faces. There's been important progress over the last few years in Colombia.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Ms. Buck, I have limited time, so I'm going to ask you to answer my questions directly, please.

You're aware that parliamentarians, at the time this bill was passed, expressed serious reservations about the human rights condition in Colombia. Do you agree with that or don't you?

11:40 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

Some parliamentarians in the debate expressed that concern. I'm aware of that. I'm aware of the human rights situation in Colombia.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

You would agree with me, I take it, that the provision requiring the government to table a report on the impact of this free trade agreement on human rights was an amendment put to the original legislation by certain parliamentarians—I believe by my colleagues in the Liberal Party. Do you recollect that?

11:40 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

Yes. I wasn't accountable for the file at that time, but I'm aware of the proceedings.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I'll quote from the legislation, which reads:Each Party shall provide a report to its national legislature by May 15 in the year after the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and annually thereafter. These reports will be on the effect of the measures taken under the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia on human rights in the territories of both Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

That is very clear. That's a mandatory requirement. It's the law, as passed by the Parliament of Canada, that such a report will be tabled in Parliament and it will be on the effect of the measures on human rights. Do you agree with that?

11:40 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

As I said, this year's report is pursuant to the act. Because of the four-and-a-half month period, which did not allow the full analysis required under the act, we have focused in this year's report on the methodology to be pursued in a report that will cover this period, to be tabled next year.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Ms. Buck, I have the report in front of me and I've read it many times. It doesn't contain one word of analysis on the impact of this agreement on human rights.

You said you only had four and a half months. The government has known of its obligation to draft this report since June 2010, when it received royal assent. We know this act came into force on August 15. Surely, from August 15 to the end of last year, there would have been some opportunity to present some analysis of the impact. If that's not the case, can you tell us what data have been collected in that time?

11:40 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

As I said in my opening remarks, sir, during the period of four and a half months, insufficient data were available to conduct that kind of analysis. This year's report focuses on the methodological steps to be used. The full period from August 15, 2011, until December 31, 2012, will be analyzed in the next report, to be tabled in 2013.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

We know that. The problem is that the legislation calls for a report annually. It didn't provide for the opportunity to say we're not going to do a report because it was a partial year. The legislation is mandatory, Ms. Buck. What's happened is that we've had an empty report tabled in Parliament that has no analysis of the impact of the agreement on human rights, when the legislation calls for exactly that. It doesn't provide an exemption for a partial year.

I would argue respectfully, Ms. Buck, that having August 15 to December 31 is sufficient time to at least put a sentence in, to put a paragraph in, to give parliamentarians some idea of the impact.

I'll turn to civil society. We're going to be hearing from witnesses who have been monitoring the human rights situation in Colombia. They will tell us that copious amounts of information are available on human rights in Colombia, which at least could have been touched on in this report.

Could you not at least have put baseline information in this report, which would serve as a basis for comparison in the next report?

11:45 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

The act requires the Government of Canada to table a report. We've tabled a report on implementation of the act. The report is not meant to be a report on the human rights situation in Colombia writ large. That is not the requirement under the act. The requirement is to provide an analysis of any noticeable changes in trade and the human rights situation in the most active economic sectors stemming from the CCOFTA for the period under review. Given the parameters of the report, there was insufficient data to do a full and fair analysis.

Point one is that we will be covering the entire period when we submit our report in year two. The main message is that the report is not meant to be covering the entire human rights situation in Colombia.

Point two is that Canada is very active with Colombia on the whole range of human rights issues—human rights challenges, human rights improvements. We have a very vigorous bilateral dialogue on human rights.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I'm just going to stop you there, Ms. Buck. I understand that, but that's not what my concern is. My concern is why parliamentarians do not have a report before us that reports on that. It is not what Canada-Colombia relations are.

You are aware, Ms. Buck, that guiding principles on human rights impact assessments of trade and investment agreements have been tabled at the UN Human Rights Council to help define global best practices. Were these used to inform how Canada would be approaching its obligations and the agreement with Colombia?

11:45 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

Canada has a long history, the government has a long history, of being very supportive of credible, strong international work on corporate social responsibility. We have been supportive of the work done by John Ruggie, for instance, on the guiding principles for business and human rights.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

What about the United Nations report, Ms. Buck? That's what I'm asking you about.

11:45 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

Excuse me?

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

I'm asking you about the United Nations impact assessment guidelines. That's what I'm specifically asking you about. Are those being taken into account in the formulation of this report?

11:45 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

There are many different human rights impact assessment approaches. We have considered a range of sources when looking at the methodology. They include very strong work by a number of sources on corporate social responsibility and guiding principles for business and human rights, such as the voluntary principles, the Kimberley Process, etc. There is a very broad range of sources.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Okay.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Keddy, you have seven minutes.

June 7th, 2012 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to our witnesses.

I'll probably take a little different tack in my questioning than my predecessor.

I participated in the debate on Colombia after we formed the government in 2006. I had the opportunity to visit Colombia. I supported the agreement, along with other members of my party, when the NDP, who are now the official opposition, didn't. It was in the sincere belief that dialogue and trade are better than isolationism at any time. If countries get to the point where you have to have isolationism—there are a number of examples of that in the world today, Syria being one of the foremost that would come to mind—then you have no other choice. But Colombia was a long way away from that.

My question, Ms. Buck, will go to the institutions in Colombia itself. Colombia went through some very dark days in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s. No one is debating that. No one is saying that it didn't occur. But when you look at the history moving forward, it was a gradual improvement, especially from the eighties and nineties and into the first decade of 2000. I think part of that, and we've never had the discussion, was due to the fact that their institutions were very strong. The institution of Parliament, with its flaws, was there and was very strong. The institution of an independent judiciary was there in Colombia for many years, even with its flaws in the police force, which had a long history.

I would just like to ask you how much that influenced the ability of Colombia to move forward through some very difficult times to the country it is today. You can travel from one side of Colombia to the other by car, when only a few years ago, it was unsafe.

11:50 a.m.

Political Director and Assistant Deputy Minister, International Security, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Branch, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Kerry Buck

There has been some very important progress made in Colombia in recent years. Progress on human rights is always attributable to a number of factors; it's never linear. Part of the evolution in Colombia was a political evolution, with stronger commitment by the current Colombian government to push forward on respect for human rights. So a number of very important initiatives have been taken recently—restitution for loss of land, for instance.

Part of the capacity to move forward, yes, can be linked to strong institutions, but Colombia recognizes two things, as does Canada. The institutions need further strengthening on human rights, and they have taken some very important steps in that regard, and there is more work to do. The second part is that Colombia also recognizes that beyond the institutions it has to deal with communities with a multitude of indigenous groups and civil society actors, private sector, to move forward on human rights as well. So it's institutions and beyond institutions, as well, where it needs to do the work.

It recognizes it, and the Government of Canada has been working hard with Colombia for a number of years to help it build the human rights capacity of some of its key institutions, so on policing, on the judiciary, but also providing funding and support to human rights lawyers who can help victims in the renewed courts.

We have been working in terms of engagement, consultation, and funding of a number of human rights-related projects at all different levels—at the community level, with the Government of Colombia, and with multilateral organizations that help parts of the Colombian society deal with human rights—and some very important progress has been made.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you for that, because I certainly believe that important progress has been made.

One of the other questions that has to be asked is this. When we deal with nations, whether they're in the Americas or the European Union, or with Japan or other nations with whom we're discussing FTAs or economic partnership agreements, there is a pretty similar template, if you will, for most of our agreements. We're looking to eliminate tariffs, we're looking to get our products and trading goods—which we're already trading with most of these countries—into the country tariff-free, and we're looking to eliminate the hidden tariffs, the non-tariff trade barriers.

But the agreements with Colombia, Jordan, and Panama are all very similar agreements, with very similar templates. Colombia was the first, but we negotiated these agreements in roughly the same period of time, basing them all on a similar template. So I'm going to say that this is the Colombian model, if you will.

Do you want to just comment on that, that the template is there? Is it that much different from the agreements with Jordan and Panama, or is it a similar or almost identical template?