Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today, yet again in opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. This time it is Bill C-2, 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.
Before I get into the substance of the bill, I will say a word about the process. This is the second time the government has had to introduce the bill. It has been unable to pass it in each of the last two sessions of Parliament as a result of the staunch opposition to this agreement by the NDP caucus and by the Bloc, but in particular, because of our critic for international trade, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the House have been as keen to get the bill passed and out of the public limelight as the Conservatives have been. They know that when it comes to human rights, environmental and labour issues, this is a seriously flawed agreement, but their friends on Bay Street are pushing them hard to support the bill. Just as they have done on so many other occasions, they have completely rolled over.
In theory, therefore, the bill should have passed a long time ago, but the member for Burnaby—New Westminster has almost single-handedly out-organized them. Recognizing that people right across the country, and indeed around the world, are opposed to this trade agreement, he has built a coalition that will do anything in its power to stop this deal from coming into effect, and we in the NDP caucus have been representing those views in the House. I think every one of our members has spoken on the bill. Many of us more than once. We are doing it because the only tool opposition members have at their disposal to stop a bill from passing is to debate it until there is no time left at the end of the session for the bill to get to a vote. We have done that twice now, once in the spring session of last year and once again last fall.
Now we are dealing with the bill a third time, and we are prepared to go to the wall again. What is at stake is nothing less than the protection of human rights, environmental protection and labour rights.
Let me address each of these concerns in turn. Since we are on the eve of Earth Hour, let me start with the environment.
To the extent that free trade agreements result in increased investment, there are often corresponding issues of environmental degradation. This danger comes in one of two forms: a lack of adequate monitoring and enforcement of existing environmental regulations; and shortcomings in domestic environmental policies.
The issue of monitoring and enforcement relates directly to the conflict in Colombia. The Colombian government does not have an effective presence in all parts of the country. As a result, its capacity to perform functions such as enforcing environmental regulations is limited and business compliance with these regulations is low. As free trade increases investment activity, there is a corresponding increase in the likelihood of significant environmental damage.
The second issue is that Colombia's existing environmental policies and regulations are simply not sufficiently well developed. Environmental groups in Colombia point to the fact that Colombia has some internationally recognized environmental legislation and is a signatory to nearly all major international environmental treaties. However, they go on to point out that there was a struggle between two visions in Colombia, economic and environmental. Many sectors in Colombia have seen environmental laws softened or made of secondary importance to economic sustainability.
Much more work needs to be done to build stronger environmental policies and to strengthen evaluation and monitoring standards. For example, Colombia needs to adopt policies to protect sensitive areas and to guard against environmental threats. The Colombian government has not taken any steps to identify environmentally sensitive areas to protect from oil and gas exploration.
Similarly, the issue of deforestation of the jungle in Colombia to make room for large-scale agricultural plantations is also of great concern. Nearly 200,000 hectares of natural forest are lost in Colombia every year due to agriculture, logging, mining, energy development and construction.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement completely ignores these facts and fails to enforce environmental protection. The environment issue is addressed in a side agreement with no enforcement mechanism to force Canada or Colombia to respect environmental rights. The process is seriously flawed. It is just a smokescreen.
We have seen in the past how these side agreements are unenforceable. We just need to look at the North American Free Trade Agreement. There has not been a single successful suit brought under the NAFTA side agreement.
Let us be honest. The Colombian market is hardly a top tier market for Canada. Only 0.15% of Canadian exports actually go to Colombia. As Glen Hodgson, vice-president and chief economist of the Conference Board of Canada, has pointed out:
Our annual trade with Colombia is about the same level as with South Dakota, and it is actually smaller than with Delaware or Rhode Island. Compared to some other markets that are much closer, Colombia is not really a major player...80% of Colombia's imports to Canada are actually duty-free already, so the gains from free trade are probably not as great as they would be in other cases.
So why is this free trade deal such a priority for Canada? It has nothing to do with trade and has everything to do with investments. Since this agreement would contain investment protection provisions, it would help Canadian investors in Colombia, particularly in the mining sector.
If past agreements are any indication, the investment protection provisions in the Canada-Colombia agreement would contain provisions that would allow an investor to directly sue a foreign government if it adopts regulations that diminish the output on its investments. That means progress on environmental and labour laws would be actively constrained by the very language of the free trade deal. It puts the interests of Canadian investors ahead of any improvements in the Colombian standard of living. So much for the Conservative government's contention that this trade deal would actually encourage and facilitate improvements to human rights and environmental and labour standards.
If I am right that this deal has much less to do with trade than with protecting the interests of investors, then it all comes down to politics. However, I would like to remind the government that concerned citizens in Canada far outnumber Canadian mining operations in Colombia and those citizens have made their opposition a clarion call to action.
The Prime Minister would be well aware of the literally thousands of postcards he has received from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. I am proud to have a particularly active chapter in my riding of Hamilton Mountain. It has gathered signatures from petitioners of all ages, calling on the government to live up to its commitment on corporate social responsibility.
Its message to the Prime Minister is clear: “At the June 2007 G8 meeting, you stated that the implementation of the recommendations from the National Round Tables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries report would make Canada a leader in corporate social responsibility. One year later, more than 200,000 Canadians told you that they want to see these recommendations implemented. Little has changed. Farmland, forests and water resources are contaminated or destroyed by some Canadian mining operations. People are denied access to and control of the natural resources they need to live in the just, dignified manner to which all are entitled...Standing with the people of the Global South, we insist that you develop legal mechanisms to hold the Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions abroad”.
Here is the line that the Prime Minister really needs to hear: “We're not going away!” That is the real political message. Faith groups, labour groups, environmental groups, indigenous groups and human rights groups are all not going away, and neither are we in the NDP.
Let us look at some of the other concerns that are germane to this debate. As the labour critic for my party, let me go next to some of the issues raised by the Canadian Labour Congress when its president, Ken Georgetti, appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade on behalf of over three million workers from across our country.
In essence, he argued that the signature of a free trade agreement with Colombia would condone the country's deplorable human rights record and implicitly endorse the Colombian government. Rather than sullying its own image through its close relationship with Colombia, Canada should work to uphold its reputation as a human rights leader in the international sphere.
It is worth quoting Ken Georgetti at length, particularly since he addressed the question of whether the labour co-operation agreement provides for an open and robust dispute resolution process, which is the key to protecting labour rights. This is an excerpt of the CLC's submission. It states:
After close examination, we find no evidence to suggest that the Labour Cooperation Agreement, which accompanies the trade agreement, will increase protections for workers in Colombia. The CLC fully agrees with the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers' statement that:
“(T)rade agreements are not written to improve labour standards and there is little evidence that such agreements can become vehicles for the enforcement of labour rights.
While some improvements have been made in the Canada-Colombia agreement, the essential structure of the labour clauses found in previous trade agreements (the NAFTA, Canada-Chile and Canada-Costa Rica), FTAs remain largely unchanged”.
All of these labour side agreements exhibit the same deficiencies. First of all, provisions are found in side agreements rather than in the main text of the trade agreement. They focus on the enforcement of existing domestic labour laws rather than on raising labour standards. Enforcement mechanisms are slow and cumbersome. The dispute resolution mechanisms remain entirely at the discretion of the signatory governments. They are premised upon a model of political cooperation among the signatories and hence, the complaint process is not transparent as it should be and depends on bureaucracies of the parties rather than by independent or even quasi-judicial bodies.
The dispute resolution mechanism is in stark contrast to the rules established for disputes of investment in that the agreement offers no trade sanctions, such as the imposition of countervailing duties or the abrogation of preferential trade status in the event that one of the parties commits a violation regarding labour rights and standards.
Again, our long experience with NAFTA is instructive. Of all complaints submitted during the 15 years of NAFTA, all have ended with consultations among ministries of labour. Not one case has proceeded to an arbitration panel.
The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is different from previous labour provisions related to Canada's trade agreements in a number of respects. It contains a chapter on labour that is internal to the main agreement, as well as a separate labour cooperation agreement, LCA, or labour side deal. The substance of the labour rights and obligation is found in the side deal, not in the main text.
In less than 500 words, chapter 16 of the CCFTA sets out general statements and objectives with regard to labour. They recognize their obligations under the ILO and affirm that it is inappropriate to encourage trade or investment by weakening or reducing protections afforded in domestic labour laws. Other than that, the labour chapter simply states that parties will obey their own labour laws and will administer the labour cooperation agreement.
In article 1 of the Canada-Colombia labour cooperation agreement, the parties agree to ensure their laws embody ILO principles. The LCA begins by affirming the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, while two commitments refer to the ILO's decent work provisions. This is an important improvement over previous LCAs. However, the obligations outlined in article 1 do not compel governments to make specific improvements in labour law. Rather these basic commitments are basically a statement of good intentions.
In acknowledging basic ILO obligations, the side agreement goes beyond the NAFTA generation of labour provisions. Because Canada and Colombia are already obliged to follow these principles due to their membership in the ILO, however, this is not a particularly laudatory advance. As described in the ILO's follow-up report:
[According to the declaration] all Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, to promote and to realize, in good faith and in accordance with the Constitution, the principles concerning the fundamental rights which are the subject of those Conventions, namely: (a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining; (b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour; (c) the effective abolition of child labour; and (d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
The parties agree that they will not waive labour laws in order to encourage trade or investment. This is a positive step. The problem, however, is that the word investment is deleted in all subsequent references to this goal in the complaints process. In other words, the LCA will not pursue a complaint that the labour law was not applied in order to encourage international investment. As well, the article allows the parties to waive labour laws for any other reason.
Neither is an egregious one time violation of the commitment to enforce labour law subject to sanction. Even if a party is charged with not enforcing its labour law repeatedly, or in a systematic way, then it is acceptable for that party to defend itself by saying it simply decided to allocate resources to some other pressing labour need. Thus it shall not be considered in violation of the agreement and complaints can be dropped.
Articles of the LCA provide for submission, acceptance and review of public communications, which may lead to ministerial consultations between the parties. A review panel may be requested, not by the complainant but by the other party and then convened.
If it considers that the matter is trade related and the party under review has failed to comply with its obligations under the agreement a report is issued. If a party refuses to comply with the report, the panel may then impose a monetary assessment of not more than $15 million U.S. annually, which is paid into a fund to be expended on appropriate labour initiatives in the territory of the party that was subject of the review.
This is the only penalty for labour rights violations under the agreement. To paraphrase, the shocking reality is that in the event of the murder of a trade unionist in Colombia, labour protection simply means that the Colombian government would have to pay money into a development fund. Kill a trade unionist, pay a fine.
Over 2,200 labour activists have been murdered since 1991 and the hunt for trade unionists in Colombia will go on if the price is right. Such is the Conservative government's concept of labour protection.
The penalty for killing a trade unionist was capped at $15 million in any one year paid by the Colombian government into a development fund. To put this in perspective one year's maximum payment of $15 million equates to $5,628 per trade unionist already killed.
How would Canadians feel if the Prime Minister agreed to the same kind of treatment of those who intentionally set out to kill labour organizers within our own borders? This is an outrageous lack of appreciation of human life and it is no labour protection at all.
For all of those reasons the Canadian labour movement believes that the labour side deal will not guarantee labour rights and freedoms because even the weak laws that do exist are not enforced nor will they be enforced as a result of this labour co-operation agreement.
Labour rights are not respected. Workers are not protected. There is a lack of social dialogue and violence is being used deliberately against the trade union movement to eliminate it as an effective defender of workers' rights.
The labour side deal provides no enforceable rights for workers. It is subordinated to the main text of the agreement. There are no mechanisms for independent action by trade unionists and the offending governments have wide sway over what happens in any proceedings that are brought by the other party.
Simply issuing a fine when other trade and investment conflicts are dealt with in all seriousness through investor-state arbitrations, judicial or quasi-judicial bodies, and the party-to-party dispute resolution system, indicates the cynicism embedded in this agreement.
To the question of whether the labour co-operation agreement would be considered an historical advance in defence of workers' rights, the CLC clearly says that it is not.
I know that my time is winding up and I have not even had a chance to address the myriad of other well documented human rights abuses whose victims are primarily human rights advocates, journalists, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians and, as I said earlier, members of unions.
Such abuse is rampant in Colombia. Let me paint a quick picture of what is happening in Colombia. The Uribe Colombian government has one of the worse human rights records in the world. There are 3.8 million internally displaced people, 57% of which are women. The UN calls this the worst humanitarian disaster in the western hemisphere, and it is growing. Nine hundred and fifty-five cases of extrajudicial executions by the army over the last five years have been documented, and the numbers are rising.
Colombian soldiers are accused of executing peasants in rural areas and passing them off as leftist rebels killed in combat, a practice that is known there as false positives.
Sixty-two mafia-like ex-paramilitary, drug-trafficking criminal networks control economic activities and political institutions in 23 of the 31 provinces and are vying with guerrilla groups for control of the drug trade. Despite the demobilization of over 31,000 paramilitary death squad members, abuse and insecurity prevail in the countryside.
Over 60 lawmakers, including senators, governors and mayors representing the president's political coalition are under investigation by the country's attorney general and supreme court for alleged relationships with paramilitary chiefs and collusion and elections fraud. Seventeen are in jail together with Uribe's former head of secret services and campaign manager and high ranking military officials.
Given our knowledge of what is happening in Colombia, it is essential that Canada wield a stick to encourage improvement in Colombia rather than offering Colombia rewards. Rejecting the free trade deal would send a strong signal to the Colombian government that human rights are a vital key to gaining legitimacy in the international sphere.
At a minimum, before ratifying and implementing an agreement with Colombia, we must develop and implement a human rights impact assessment to ensure that there are binding and enforceable protections for labour and human rights within the framework of fair trade.
In fact, both the Canadian and Colombian governments should welcome such an independent and impartial assessment, after all, they claim that conditions have improved and human rights violations have decreased. However, in reality they know that the situation in Colombia would never pass such scrutiny and, if they know that, they must stand in the House and vote against the free trade deal between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.