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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 report.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa  Researcher, Escuela Nacional Sindical
Jennifer Moore  Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada
Augusto Solano  President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters
Carlo Dade  Senior Fellow, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

You have two minutes.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

All right. Then I will have to leave you, Mr. Solano, because I would like to ask this of Mr. Dade, if I could, please.

You talked interestingly about how, from your standpoint, the theory of trade assumes that there is “causality where there is none”. I think that was your direct quote. So I guess to me, the question is.... From that, I inferred that it may not make sense to review a human rights side agreement in relation to a trade agreement. But would you not believe that there is value in putting a human rights side agreement in place regardless? Because that certainly is one of the fundamentals that we have done with all of our trade agreements.

I would appreciate your candour on that, please.

1:05 p.m.

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

Carlo Dade

I think there are two separate issues here. If you want to include it as part of the agreement, you need to extend the methodology to include some sort of survey of firms to identify decisions and a survey of investors to identify decisions. And then, as the methodology lays out, you need to track those firms that have made the decision because of or tied to the free trade agreement—as to what aspects of the agreement and what provisions, etc., induced them and how that's affecting their behaviour—if you are then going to seek remedy for the damages by means of a tie to the trade agreement.

That's the point about causality. If you're going to use the agreement as a way to identify problems and effect remedies, you need to have causality there.

In terms of including it, I think it would make more sense to have separate agreements with countries. If human rights are such an overriding concern, they should not be relegated to a side agreement. If the concerns are so large and so pressing, I think they should be dealt with in a more transparent and more forthright manner. Take, for example, our case in the Americas. There are countries with which we have trade agreements in this hemisphere that have more charges against them in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights than does Colombia, yet those countries do not have separate side agreements on human rights, and human rights are not discussed.

So there are several issues with this. One is the basic hypocrisy of doing it with smaller, weaker countries, and not with larger countries, where there are quantifiably identified human rights issues. The methodology in terms of proving causality is another.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

Thank you.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Holder Conservative London West, ON

I thank our guests.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Mr. Easter, five minutes.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank the witnesses for their comments.

Mr. Solano, you're representing the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters. In terms of the production of flowers in Colombia, how many companies would be involved in your organization—I mean the numbers—and are they locally owned and managed, or are they owned from afar?

1:10 p.m.

President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters

Augusto Solano

We are the association, the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters. I am the president. I am not a flower grower; I am an administrator. We have approximately 250 farms that represent 70% of exports in the country. My organization is a private one. It's a non-profit organization.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

In terms of the ownership—and this gets to the point of exploitation of land, and peasants, if I could put it that way—are the 250 farms locally owned and managed, or are they owned by multinational corporations or whatever?

1:10 p.m.

President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters

Augusto Solano

No. They are Colombian owners—I would say almost all of them. There may be a few companies where there may be some small participation by foreigners. A few years ago Dole, the multinational company, had 18% of the entire sector, but two or three years ago Dole decided to withdraw from the market because it wasn't doing well in the flower sector. The rest of them are 100% Colombian.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Thank you.

I want to come to you, Ms. Moore and Mr. Gonzalez Rúa. You both have mentioned the non-report of the Government of Canada, and I would say on Mr. Holder's point—and this isn't being partisan, these are the facts—that the ministers are responsible. It is a Conservative government and the government is ultimately responsible. There's no sense trying to blame the decision for the non-report on the bureaucrats because the report wasn't done. We don't know who ordered it not done, but it certainly wasn't done.

This was the excuse, and I'll quote from the record:

Four and a half months of trade and investment data was, in our view, insufficient to allow that in-depth, rigorous analysis of the correlation between that economic activity and human rights.

That was from Ms. Kerry Buck, assistant deputy minister.

What's your response to that excuse, both Ms. Moore and Mr. Gonzalez Rúa, and what should be done in the future?

Ms. Moore, to start.

1:10 p.m.

Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada

Jennifer Moore

I think it's an unacceptable excuse. The negotiation and ratification of the Colombia free trade agreement took a considerable period of time because of the tremendous controversy over the serious human rights crisis in Colombia.

There was a lot of serious deliberation that led to the legal agreement, the act that was created, which our government signed two years ago, to agree to produce this report on an annual basis. It had substantial time to consider the methodology and the way in which it would do that to prepare for the implementation of the agreement, knowing that May 15 of this year was when it would have to table its first report.

I frankly don't think the report it tabled even demonstrates that they needed the four and a half months to produce what they delivered on May 15. What they put together could have been slapped together in a short period of time.

To me, it was really turning a blind eye, and I think showing a real disregard for the considerable effort that many people put into trying to craft an opportunity for Canada to respond in a meaningful way to the human rights crisis in Colombia. I don't think that the four and a half months is a reasonable excuse at all.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

We don't actually have any more time, Mr. Rúa, but I'll allow a very short answer if you want to comment on that.

1:15 p.m.

Researcher, Escuela Nacional Sindical

Juan Diego Gonzalez Rúa

Well, I agree 100% with Ms. Moore's comments with regard to the absence of any real report from either government. It was a report that had been agreed to and there was time to prepare it. We don't know quite why it was not really produced. I think it may be lack of concern about the issue of human rights linked to the increase in trade.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

Mr. Shipley, the floor is yours for five minutes.

June 12th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for being with us.

Mr. Solano, it was interesting. I had the opportunity to be in Colombia a while ago, and I learned a very small amount of information about the flower industry in your beautiful country.

Can you tell me a little bit about the changes? The agreement is maybe too young to determine the value yet in terms of the implementation of this trade agreement in the export of flowers to Canada. Have you seen or do you predict a significant benefit to your industry? It's $1.25 billion a year that your industry has. You obviously create a lot of spinoffs, everything from aircraft and air travel, in moving all your products, to the number of employed people you have.

Could you just help me with the impact on the ground?

1:15 p.m.

President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters

Augusto Solano

Yes, as you have said, the agreement is still very young and in the flower industry processes take time. They are gradual, but they are moving ahead, and we believe that our exports will increase. The flowers are being produced and the services are there. We were able to see that, as I mentioned, at the showroom we organized in Mississauga just a few weeks ago.

I think this agreement, with all the labour provisions, ratifies the programs that our organization is putting forth. We are signatories of the UN's Global Compact, and as I mentioned, we are members of the ILO committee to eradicate child labour. It's not present in the flower industry, but we are supporting the eradication of child labour because we believe that is an opportunity for us to mitigate the effects of the increasing difficulties that we find because of the appreciation of the Colombian peso.

So we want to make sure the flower industry in Colombia—and we know this—is an international industry from the get-go. We export virtually everything we produce, so issues linked to social issues and environmental issues are issues we have been concerned with from the beginning, and we try to incorporate them more and more.

With regard to environmental rights, we have entered into an agreement with Bayer to see how we can calculate our carbon footprint and try to reduce that footprint. We have been working on many fronts.

We've also worked with members of Parliament during the negotiations. We invite you to visit us and to see what's happening on the ground, in the fields, and see the developments there. There are social developments and environmental ones as well.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

Mr. Dade, I have a question, because you kind of left it hanging, actually. You had said you didn't have time, but you may have some things that we haven't heard about in terms of human rights issues that you didn't get a chance to talk about in your opening. I would just ask that you might enlighten us on what you were going to tell us.

1:15 p.m.

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

Carlo Dade

Sure. Thank you very much for the question.

I think in terms of issues that Colombia has addressed.... To put this in context, in terms of responding to human rights issues—which are present in countries throughout the hemisphere, from Canada down to Argentina and Chile—Colombia has exhibited some of the most responsive dynamic actions in terms of the issues that have been raised.

Take the recent issue with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an organization of the Organization of American States, that the United States and Canada have sought to defend in light of charges from Venezuela, Bolivia, and other countries. Colombia is a country that has welcomed the court, welcomed its actions, and responded in kind—a position that's different from other countries.

Specifically, very quickly, look at some of the things that Colombia has done. Under President Santos they've created three new ministries: labour, justice, and a new environment ministry. They've put in two new units for the implementation of the law for victims. President Santos just this past Saturday was out in Medellin handing out cheques to the first people to be compensated for having lost relatives or loved ones during the violence. They've also set up a committee to return land to people who have been dispossessed. The list goes on and on.

But what is most fascinating about Colombia.... What is the first right identified under the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights? Anyone? It's the right to security of person, the right to life. It is put first in the declaration ahead of rights such as the 24th, which is leisure and rest, or rights to health, or rights to education. It is put first for a reason: because fundamentally, everyone across the globe understands that this is the most important right.

Colombia, in this regard, has the most impressive record in terms of reducing homicides, reducing crime, reducing kidnappings. Your average person driving a taxi, the accountant, the woman working the night shift at a hardware store.... It's crime. It's violence. That's the most fundamental human rights issue. Homicides in Colombia have been cut in half since 2002. Kidnappings have been reduced by 90% and acts of terrorism by 65%. In terms of a human right that impacts the average person on a daily basis, Colombia has had success that no other country in this hemisphere has had.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

Mr. Morin, you have five minutes.

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

My question is for Mr. Solano. In February 2012, the Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL), put a petition online intended for Minister John Baird, Rafael Pardo Rueda, the Colombian Labour Minister and yourself, in order to share its concerns regarding the intensification of work that affects the health of the men and women working in the flower industry. According to CDHAL, this was the third petition sent to you since 2006.

Are you aware of it? Do you agree with its content? Have you taken any action as a result?

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Mr. Solano, I believe that was a question to you.

1:20 p.m.

President, Association of Colombian Flower Exporters

Augusto Solano

Can you repeat the question for me, please?

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Are you aware of the petition put out by CDAHL in February 2012, which dealt with the intensification of work in the flower industry? You should have received a copy, as would the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, and the Colombian Labour Minister. Are you aware of that petition?