Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-23, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, and the two side agreements to that trade agreement: the side agreement on environment and the side agreement on labour co-operation. We know this as the Canada-Colombia free trade implementation act.
I think it has been said many times in this corner of the House that there is absolutely no way New Democrats can stand by and allow this kind of arrangement between Canada and Colombia to go ahead. This is a despicable international agreement to be proceeding with at this time, given the excesses of the government in Colombia.
We do not need to go any further than to look at the record of the Government of Colombia when it comes to trade unionism. The number of trade unionists who have died in Colombia in recent years is in the thousands. Even in this very year, 2009, so far we know that about 27 trade union activists have been murdered in Colombia. That is an incredible record of oppression and violence.
As we are debating strengthening our ties with Colombia and opening more opportunities for doing business with Colombia, I wonder how we can explain that to the families of people like Adolfo Tique, who was murdered in January, or more recently, Mauricio Antonio Monsalve Vásquez, who was murdered just last month in Colombia. What do we say to their families, as Canadians, when we are proposing to enter into this kind of agreement, establishing this kind of relationship with the Republic of Colombia when these kinds of excesses are being perpetrated against workers, families, the people of Colombia?
I do not think there is any way we can possibly justify proceeding with this kind of agreement with Colombia at this time.
There are some very serious problems with this legislation. I have already mentioned the failure on labour rights protection. It is without a doubt that Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries on the planet for trade unionists. They are victims of violence, intimidation and assassination by paramilitary groups, some of which are said to have links to the Colombian president himself.
There are no tough labour standards in this agreement. The labour agreement is a side agreement to the main trade agreement. We know that these side agreements are the least effective parts of such international agreements.
There is nothing in this trade agreement that would enforce human rights protection for trade unionists, for instance, in Colombia. In fact there is a penalty clause, which amounts to the ability for Colombia to actually pay for ongoing human rights violations. There is nothing that says Colombia has to stop the violations; it can pay a fine and those violations can continue. It is not a particularly effective mechanism for improving the human rights situation in the country.
There is also a side agreement on the environment that is related to this. Again, side agreements are lesser agreements. They are not effective. They have been proven ineffective. There is no serious enforcement mechanism that would force either Canada or Colombia to respect environmental rights. Some people have called this a smokescreen in the agreement, that it is not a serious part of what was undertaken in terms of the development of this accord between Colombia and Canada. It is something that leaves an awful lot to be desired before we would enter into this kind of agreement.
This agreement also includes the same investor chapter we have seen in NAFTA's chapter 11, investor rights, which gives powerful rights to private companies to sue governments. The private companies' interests are enforceable through investor state arbitration panels. We have seen this used to override the democratic interests of Canadians, for instance, when it comes to enforcing our democratic interests in our agreements in trading relationships with the United States. Now we are proposing to enter into a similar kind of agreement with Colombia, with all the extra problems an agreement with that particular country involves.
There is also a serious problem with agricultural tariffs in this bill as well. We know that Colombia has severe poverty and that poverty is directly linked to the agricultural development sector in Colombia.
If tariffs are removed, what will that do to the Canadian agricultural sector, especially to cereals, pork and beef? I—