Madam Speaker, as a member of the international trade committee, I had an opportunity to be in Colombia and meet with the president, as well as some of his other cabinet colleagues. I must say that I am very impressed by the number of witnesses who we were able to hear from and the challenges that country has had to undergo in the last number of years.
Our friends across the aisle talk about the violence and what goes on there. There is no question that country has had its share of challenges, but it is my profound belief that if we do not give it an opportunity to trade with this free trade agreement, we are going to limit the kinds of opportunities that country has moving forward.
I know my friends across the aisle like to comment on all the violence and crimes, and they refer to numbers in 2008-09. What they fail to recognize and acknowledge is that under this president, since 2002 more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters have returned to civilian life. Since 2002, homicides have declined by 40%, kidnappings by 82% and terrorist attacks by 77%.
I would say to my friends across the way that if they are going to quote numbers, let us talk about the historical context. Let us talk about the time since President Uribe has been in government. Let us talk about the time that he has had since 2002.
Does Colombia have challenges? There is no question it does, but I believe that free trade is one of the ways to help Colombia emerge as a stronger country. I also believe that Canada and the leadership that it is playing, because of its rich and diverse connections to that country and to the hemisphere, have made this possible. I realize that Canada has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be active in this hemisphere, and there are critical and important issues to all countries in this region.
I would like to highlight today the key features of our Americas engagement, which reinforces Canada's commitment to deepening its participation in the region. Clearly, as the region addresses the worldwide economic downturn, it is timely to assess how we are all acting and co-operating in bringing solutions.
We have evolved together in this region in the past to address a range of problems, from endemic poverty and inequalities to bolster common security and economic development. Canada has longstanding, rich and diverse connections to countries of the Americas. We have been forging privileged partnerships and commercial ties with the region as a whole for over 100 years, producing results that have been mutually beneficial.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported last year that Canada has become the third largest investor in the region. Foreign direct investment from Canada into the Americas, excluding Mexico and Bermuda, now stands at approximately $95 billion. To put that number into perspective, that is about three times the size of Canadian investment in Asia.
While this covers a multitude of sectors, investments in financial services and extractive sectors have been notable. Canadian banks, with a long presence in the Caribbean, now bring stability and much needed credit throughout the Americas. Canadian mining and exploration companies are also on the leading edge of the application of the best practices of corporate social responsibility.
At a time when investment from outside the region is not always as scrupulous in attending to questions such as labour standards or community services and engagement, we are proud that Canadian companies serve as standard bearers to this region.
Up until the recent economic downturn, our commercial relations had been on a steep growth curve. Our trade with the region in 2008 grew by almost 30%. This is due to a combination of factors, including strong demand for Canadian offerings and our competitive price points, but I believe that the strong message that our government has been sending on the importance of bolstering free trade and open markets has played a key role.
Certainly, we have been among the most active free trader in the region. We are building our successful free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and a recent free trade agreement with Peru, which entered into force on August 1, 2009.
In 2008, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Colombia and it is now before us for ratification. Canada and Panama also concluded negotiations on August 11, 2009. We have ongoing negotiations with the Dominican Republic, CARICOM and Central American countries.
As for the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and its parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, it is part of a suite of instruments Canada uses in its engagement with Colombia. These instruments include bilateral and development co-operation, and the Department of Foreign Affairs global peace and security fund. All of these support Colombia's ongoing efforts toward greater peace, security, prosperity and full respect for human rights.
In the past five years, the Canadian International Development Agency has disbursed over $64 million alone in Colombia. CIDA's programming in that country is focused on children's rights and their protection while supporting initiatives that protect internally displaced people and other vulnerable populations.
I will say that while we were in Colombia, we had a chance to see first-hand some of the great work that CIDA is doing with those projects.
As a country of the Americas, Canada has a vested interest in the progress of countries in the Americas. Our economic success, our profound belief in democracy and the rule of law, and the national and personal security of our citizens, both within and beyond our borders, are all intricately linked with the welfare of our hemispheric neighbours. This recognition is at the core of Canada's engagement in the Americas.
As a committed member of the inter-American system, Canada has both the opportunity and the responsibility to be active on hemispheric issues of critical importance to all countries in the region. Our engagement in the Americas is focusing Canada's efforts on three interrelated and mutually reinforcing objectives: enhancing the prosperity of the citizens in the region; strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance throughout the Americas; and building a safe and secure hemisphere.
I will briefly summarize each of these points, beginning with prosperity.
To say the least, prosperity has become more elusive of late for all countries in all hemispheres. Canada is faring better than most countries but Canadians have not been spared from the wretched impacts of the worldwide recession. Despite continued economic uncertainty, most countries in the Americas are arguably better prepared than in the past to weather the global downturn. Since the 1990s, many have worked hard to improve their debt situations. They now have lower total debt ratios, reduced interest rates and increased debt service requirements. In fact, many of these countries enjoy fiscal surpluses.
Thanks to these efforts, many countries will be in a better position to rebound when better days return, and they will if the lure of short-term measures, whether populous or protectionist, can be resisted. In this regard, there does exist a risk that the blame for current market failure will be unfairly attributed to capitalism rather than to the specific capitalists who, in the absence of adequate supervision, contributed to this outcome.
In the region, one can detect the return of antiquated views, favouring import substitution and rejecting globalization. This must be resisted. Realistic solutions need to be identified and addressed.
Finally, we need to resist protectionism in every sense, and here I refer not only to tariff protectionism but also the impact of spending measures and rescue bailouts. Evidently, these must be managed in a way that does not damage market participation in the region.
On security, these effects on the economic crisis cannot be viewed in isolation. They have a clear and identifiable impact on security and governance in the region.
The medium-term implications on reduced remittances, returning migrants, rising unemployment and falling government revenues. Some might call that a perfect storm. What we see is a clear reason to increase our engagement in addressing security problems in the Americas.
As a result, Canada is assisting countries in the region in their efforts to strengthen their law enforcement, judicial system, disaster relief for preparedness and health issues. Working together, we are confident we can reduce the impact of crime, drugs, terrorism, disasters and pandemics on Canadians and citizens of the Americas.
In this vein, DFAIT's global peace and security program has developed over $14.5 million in conflict prevention and peace-building programs in Colombia between 2006 and 2009. This program focuses on truth, justice and confidence-building initiatives, supports political dialogue and enhances security and stability.
I believe there is every reason for optimism, the current economic climate notwithstanding. By pursuing this model of partnership, I have no doubt that together we can strengthen hemispheric co-operation in support of peace, security and development, and produce long-term results that will benefit us all.
For those reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of this agreement.