Mr. Speaker, if we look closely at Bill C-23, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, it is difficult to understand why the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, is so bent on signing such a trade agreement.
From various viewpoints, this agreement runs counter to the concept of a responsible government working for the well-being of its citizens, but also the well-being of humanity. As my colleague, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, mentioned earlier this morning, the agreement proposed by Bill C-23 contains no significant measure that would serve, for example, to improve human rights.
In a country that has the worst human rights record in Latin America, Canada, even though it has certain economic interests, has an obligation to set conditions that might improve the situation. Until we have evidence to the contrary, the Conservatives are once again in breach of their duty.
The record on workers’ rights is just as distressing. Columbia is considered one of the worst places in the world for respect for workers’ rights: unionists there are targeted because of their activities. They are victims of threats, abduction and murder. As someone with a background in the union movement myself, I find this situation totally unacceptable.
This is not to mention the number of men, women and children who have to leave the comfort of their home because of conflicts between the state security forces, paramilitary groups and guerrillas. More and more, economic displacement is forcing small subsistence farmers and small miners to also leave their land, to the benefit of the big agri-food corporations or, once again, big mining multinationals.
Entire populations are being forced to move. Once again, there are no significant measures proposed in this agreement to correct such injustices, and it is completely false to believe that such an agreement will help the cause of the Colombian people.
Why do we want a free trade agreement with Colombia? It makes you wonder about the real reasons driving the government, not forgetting the Liberals, to want to ratify this agreement, whatever the cost.
Colombia is the fifth largest destination of Canadian exports to Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the seventh most important source of imports from the same region. In other words, Canada has more interesting preferred trading partners than Colombia.
In recent years trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has substantially increased, reducing the proportion of trade with Colombia compared with the other countries of the region. Furthermore, Canada exports mainly automobiles and grains, and the great majority of Canadian investments in Colombia are in the extractive industries sector.
In my humble opinion, and as mentioned by some of my colleagues, to sign a free trade agreement there must necessarily be a relationship of equals between the two states. So they must be preferred commercial partners, and the level of their trade must make it attractive to lower trade barriers.
Let us be honest: Colombia is not a very attractive market, considering that trade between the two countries is particularly limited.
Could it be that the main motivation of the Conservative government in signing this free trade agreement is not trade, but rather investment?
I wonder about this because this agreement contains a chapter on protection of investment which, without a shadow of a doubt, will make life easier for Canadian investors investing in Colombia, and specifically in the mining sector. This chapter is strongly modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA, which in fact constitutes a charter of the multinationals to the detriment of the common good.
More specifically, NAFTA chapter 11, which was the inspiration for the provision on investment in this agreement, includes the following points. Foreign investors can go directly to international courts, passing beyond the filter of the public good provided by governments. Exports are so broadly construed that any legislation which allegedly has the effect of reducing an investor’s profits can be equated with expropriation and result in a lawsuit. Even worse, the amount of the suit is not limited to the value of the investment and includes all potential future profits, which is far too much and totally unacceptable in this agreement.
This chapter has been criticized by everyone. As soon as some legislation, for example on human rights, reduces a foreign investor’s profits, the government is exposed to astronomical lawsuits. It is ironic that when the Liberals were in power, they signed several trade deals with clauses similar to NAFTA chapter 11 but they were severely criticized for these abusive practices and stopped signing such agreements. There they are now, though, very clearly supporting Bill C-23. They are going backwards, therefore, and delegating to multinationals the task of judging the common good.
I hope even the Conservatives and Liberals do not think that multinationals will serve the general public by giving it the resources it needs and working to ensure more respect for human rights, the rights of workers and the environment.
When I hear the Conservatives and Liberals say ad nauseam that we should support developing countries and help them progress, they are not mistaken. The Bloc Québécois and I think we have a duty to help other societies to progress and we should give them all the resources they need to achieve their goals. However, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement does not do this.
Bill C-23 does not contain any significant measures to improve the economic, social and environmental situation in Colombia. We should not use pretexts in order to achieve our objectives and should instead take advantage of these business opportunities to develop a concept of fair globalization that includes human rights, workers’ rights, the environment and honest trade. That is what we want in Quebec.
We should remember that free trade is also supposed to help improve the lives of working people through higher wages and better working conditions. Even in Quebec, though, we find that a lot of companies prefer to close their factories and take advantage of low wages and the lack of adequate working conditions abroad. This approach creates unemployment in Quebec while the companies themselves continue to prosper.
Should we make this worse? We do not think so.