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.