Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to the bill again.
Let me begin by following up on the comments made by the member for Mississauga South when he asked a question of the Bloc member. It certainly is the case that in 2008, the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade recommended that no agreement be signed with Colombia until the human rights situation there has improved. It also recommended that a human rights impact assessment be undertaken to determine the real impact of a trade agreement. The government, of course, has ignored this report.
With that information in mind and the fact we have known about this for a year now and that members of the House are very familiar with it, as it keeps being brought up over and over again, the issue is, why is the Liberal Party not opposing this trade agreement? Why are the Liberals complicit with the government in trying to ram this through?
I appreciate the member for Mississauga South, because I know that on this particular issue and others, I do not really think he is in sync with his caucus at all. The member for Kings—Hants has stood up in the House and the tone and content of his comments are certainly, to my mind, very different, if not the exact opposite. It sounds to me like there may be some sort of mini-war going on within the Liberal caucus over there, and I certainly hope that the member for Mississauga South could win on this one, because we are doing our best on this side to hold up the bill as long as possible, perhaps to give him enough time to win the war and to get his caucus members onside. He is quite aware that together we form quite a formidable force in the House. The three opposition parties actually are the majority, and if we could just get the Liberals onside on this particular issue, it would go a long way to stopping this initiative.
The history of the Liberal Party has been all over the place on this issue and many others, but certainly there is a core group in the Liberal Party that, I would think, is having a lot of difficulty supporting this particular free trade agreement.
Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia was introduced in the House by the Minister of International Trade on March 26, 2009. Bill C-23 implements three agreements and the respective annexes signed by Canada and the Republic of Colombia on November 21, 2008. The first of these is the bilateral free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement provides for the liberalization of various types of economic activities: trade in goods, trade in services, foreign investments and government procurements. It has already been pointed out by members of the Bloc and NDP how small this amount of trade really is. In fact the previous Bloc member suggested that this free trade agreement is all about the mining companies, the mining sector, and supporting the mining companies without any regard to the human rights record found in Colombia right now.
The two other agreements dealt with in the bill are side agreements to the free trade agreement, the agreement on the environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the agreement on labour cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.
The environment agreement seeks to ensure that each party enforces its environmental laws. However, if a country does not have any environmental laws, it is hard to enforce them in the first place.
The labour agreement seeks to ensure that the domestic law of both states respects basic labour rights and is duly enforced. The latter agreement also provides for the possibility of resorting to arbitral panels to settle trade-related disputes that involve a persistent pattern of failure to comply with obligations under the labour agreement, an option that is not created in the environment agreement.
The wording in agreements can sound very good, but at the end of the day, it is the will, the implementation, and enforcement of the agreements that make them successful or not successful. We do not want to get involved in an agreement like this when we know that the basic bedrock, the basic infrastructure, is not there to promote the proper type of results we would expect from an agreement like this.
We in our party want to develop free trade agreements that promote fair trade. We on this side of the House are all in favour of reducing barriers and we are supporting fair trade as opposed to free trade. We have seen what sorts of agreements have been developed over the last few years with successive governments in this country. I recall the Liberal Party in 1988 and its leader at the time, John Turner, who was running his entire election campaign against the Mulroney government's Free Trade Agreement with the United States, and saying he was going to eliminate it if he became prime minister. Of course, the Liberals said they would eliminate the GST and do a lot of other things in their red book back in 1993, but which they totally ignored when they came to power.
Currently Canada is party to five free trade agreements, all of which have been implemented through legislation. There is the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement, and the Canada-Israel and Canada-Costa Rica free trade agreements. The two others we have been dealing with lately have been the free trade agreement with Peru and the one with the European Free Trade Association.
Bill C-23 implements the three agreements between Canada and Colombia through a set of provisions that will form the core of a stand-alone piece of legislation, the proposed Canada-Colombia free trade agreement implementation act. It also contains amendments to a number of existing pieces of legislation: the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act, the Commercial Arbitration Act, the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, the Customs Act, the Customs Tariff, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development Act, the Export and Import Permits Act and the Financial Administration Act.
I mentioned that the extent of trade in goods between Canada and Colombia is relatively modest at the current time. In 2008, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Colombia totalled just over $1.3 billion and Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia totalled $703 million. The major exports include agricultural products such as wheat, barley, lentils, as well as industrial products, paper products and heavy machinery. Canadian merchandise imports from Colombia totalled $643 million and consisted of major imports such as coffee, bananas, coal, oil, sugar and flowers. Having said that in regard to those figures, I believe that Colombia is our fifth largest trading partner in the area. It is not even in our top four trading partners in the area.
Bill C-23 has attracted considerable attention, as we have pointed out and continue to point out. The groups and individuals opposed to the implementation of the free trade agreement oppose it because of the country's abysmal human rights record. The previous Bloc member read the names of people who have been killed, and I have a similar list as well. People are being killed on a daily basis in Colombia and the government seems to ignore that fact. As a matter of fact, the president was invited to appear before the committee and the Conservatives are blithely ignoring the record of the country, all because the Conservatives have this tunnel vision that they can sign these free trade agreements that are somehow going to lift everybody up. That in fact does not work out. What we have seen in Colombia and other countries is a degradation of the environment after the free trade agreements have been put into place.
That is why we need a fair trade agreement. On that basis, I think we should certainly look at a different approach here, and only after the human rights record is straightened out in Colombia.