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House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think one of the things we need to point out is that this president has been working very hard to get rid of the drugs that have been plaguing his country for a number of years and, quite frankly, so has his cabinet. He has put a lot of things in place, in terms of anti-corruption, and people are under investigation because, quite frankly, he is trying to have a very transparent government.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to talk about the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. It really is an important agreement that would allow Canadian workers to compete and succeed in a market that is very important to us. In particular, I would like to discuss the issue of labour under this agreement.

As is the case with other Latin American countries, as part of our re-engagement in the Americas, Colombia needs the support of Canada to overcome its challenges and ensure continued economic and social development. We would not want to turn our backs on the government of Colombia and send a negative message not only to Colombians but also to those in the Americas who look forward to increased trade bringing prosperity and contributing to better governance, peace and security in the region.

The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is an important part of this commitment to the Americas. It is important to our history of engagement rather than isolation, in countries where Canada can make a difference and help others toward a future of lasting economic recovery, especially in these tough economic times.

The agreement includes parallel treaties on labour co-operation and the environment. The labour co-operation agreement is strong and comprehensive and will help improve labour standards for Colombian workers in many different sectors. Canadians can be proud of their government for ensuring that with all of our engagements, labour is a priority for this government along with the environment and human rights.

I know there are concerns about the impact of increased trade on workers, and I assure the House that it is an important concern for this government as well. This government firmly believes that prosperity cannot come at the expense of workers' rights. This government is committed to working with Colombia to improve labour standards and to help Colombia protect its workers. That is why the Canada-Colombia labour co-operation agreement is so very important.

The agreement is intended to facilitate co-operation on labour issues and to hold Colombia accountable for maintaining rigorous domestic labour standards reflecting those set out by the International Labour Organization. This agreement commits both countries to ensuring that their laws respect the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The International Labour Organization's declaration covers a wide range of workers' rights and obligations: the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the right of freedom of association, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour, and the elimination of discrimination.

However, our agreement with Colombia goes even further. It commits both countries to provide for acceptable protections in occupational health and safety, to provide for migrant workers to enjoy the same legal protections as nationals in terms of working conditions, and to provide for minimum employment standards, covering such things as minimum wage and hours of work. The agreement also includes a strong dispute resolution mechanism, along with penalties for not living up to these commitments.

To ensure the highest possible compliance, the agreement provides for an open, robust and streamlined complaints and dispute resolution process. As part of this, members of the public can submit complaints to either government concerning the non-compliance of a party with its labour laws and the provisions under the International Labour Organization's declaration.

If a matter cannot be resolved, an independent review panel may be established and could require the offending country to pay up to $15 million annually. This fine would be placed into a co-operation fund to be used to resolve the matter identified through the dispute resolution process.

The Colombian government has demonstrated resolve in recent years to fight impunity for crimes, and Canada needs to support these efforts. The government of Colombia has committed financial resources for the investigation and prosecution of violent acts against union leaders and members through a special unit of the office of the attorney general.

In addition, through the protection program for vulnerable groups, the government of Colombia is providing protection for labour union members, their families and other potentially targeted groups such as politicians, journalists and civil leaders. Colombians and Canadians alike expect that the government of Colombia will remain committed to preventing crime and will prosecute those responsible. Our commitment to the rule of law goes beyond our borders wherever Canada engages.

The fines payable under the labour agreement are not designed to punish specific criminal acts. They are designed to help ensure compliance with and respect for domestic and international labour obligations.

Moneys placed in the co-operation fund would be disbursed according to an agreed-upon action plan. This would ensure that the matters under dispute are effectively resolved. Through this agreement, Canadians would have a unique tool at their disposal to ensure that the Colombian government continues to demonstrate the political will and provide the necessary resources to improve the labour situation.

We clearly recognize the challenges that a nation like Colombia faces in complying with each and every standard set out in the agreement. Nevertheless, Canada believes that compliance with the obligations of this agreement can be achieved not only through a robust dispute resolution mechanism but also through enhanced technical co-operation. That is why our agreement is complemented with $1 million in labour-related technical assistance programming in the areas of social dialogue, occupational health and safety, labour inspection and enforcement of national labour legislation.

These initiatives aim to promote and enforce internationally recognized labour standards, particularly in the areas of labour inspection, tripartite consultation, enforcement of labour rights and occupational safety and health. These initiatives will also help Colombia enforce its domestic laws and meet the high standards established by this agreement. They will foster greater dialogue and co-operation among workers, employers and government to address labour issues. Canada is committed to helping our Colombian partners make the most of our new free trade agreement.

This government is re-engaging with our partners in the Americas and promoting the principles of sound governance, security and prosperity. We see improving workers' rights in the Americas as a fundamental part of this pursuit. More broadly, we are committed to playing an active role in promoting human rights across Latin America and throughout the Caribbean, and that includes Colombia.

We are one of the largest supporters of the Organization of American States, working in Colombia to support peace and demobilize paramilitary forces in that country. Our global peace and security fund is helping to promote peace, protect victims' rights and help strengthen Colombia's judicial system.

Canada takes human rights in Colombia very seriously, and this commitment extends to workers' rights. We believe free trade can play a positive role in a country's economic and social life. Workers' rights fit squarely into this principle and will continue to guide our engagement with Colombia and our partners throughout the hemisphere.

Canada is committed to supporting Colombia's efforts to meet these challenges and to build a better country for its people. Our government recognizes that free trade is a key driver of our economy, representing one in five jobs and a full two-thirds of our gross domestic product. We cannot talk about economic recovery without talking about free trade. That is why our government is putting such a strong emphasis on freer trade, an aggressive free trade agenda that will create jobs and foster economic growth.

Colombia is important to this agenda. It is important to Canadian workers and, of course, it is important to the development of a safer, more secure and prosperous Colombia. A safe, secure and prosperous hemispheric neighbour is a tenet of our engagement in the Americas. Today we have the opportunity to extend a future of promise to Canadian industry and the Colombian people for a future of mutual benefit and of course to demonstrate that, wherever Canada is, we promote the highest standards of labour rights and the protection of human rights. We can only do this through engagement. With the right mechanisms, such as the agreement we have before us, Canadians can make a difference.

For these reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support for this agreement. Let us get this agreement moved off to committee, to support Canadian business and to support the future of Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was such a reasonable sounding appeal. It made it sound like such a wonderful deal for us and Colombia to pass this allegedly free trade agreement.

The hon. member went on at great lengths about how it would be good for Canadian workers and Colombian workers. I am trying to resolve that in my mind with whether that will be similar to what the government has done for workers in Sudbury, a little closer to home.

I have a specific question. Paramilitary forces in Colombia now are driving Indians and Mestizos off the land, out of the jungles and away from their traditional forms of agriculture, which have been shown over centuries to be sustainable.

There are highly sensitive soils in Colombia, highly sensitive and biodiversity ecosystems, which do not work well with our more northerly kinds of agribusiness, monocultures and so on in these sensitive soils. What concerns me is not just the affront to civil rights but the affront to ecosystems in that area.

I doubt I will get a good answer, but I hope I will be wrong and that I will get a good explanation as to why my fears are unfounded about the destruction of biodiversity and sensitive soils in Colombia.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member said he thought what I said about what was in the agreement sounded good. The fact is it is good. It is a good thing that we are engaging with Colombia. As I laid out in my presentation, there are so many different aspects of engagement with countries in the Americas like Colombia that are positive for countries such as Colombia that we work together. By putting our heads in the sand and putting up a wall would be to the detriment of our own workers and our own economy in Canada and is not going to be very helpful.

I am very confident this agreement does have the protections in it that Canadians expect. It is something that is positive for Canada and it is something positive for Colombia in terms of our engagement.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up on the question that the NDP member just asked.

It is never passing strange that we find the NDP coming up with all kinds of reasons to oppose free trade agreements no matter what they look like, no matter what the stripe. I just heard about biodiversity and the quality of the soils. Earlier the NDP members were talking about the human rights regime.

I look back to the 1980s and the early 1990s when Canada was negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, NAFTA. Even back then the NDP members opposed that free trade agreement. They did not have human rights as an issue. They did not have labour rights as an issue. They did not have biodiversity as an issue. They did not have soil quality as an issue.

The NDP members are, in principle, opposed to any kind of free trade agreement. They put up silos around our industries. They build trade walls around Canada. They ignore the global economy. They simply forge ahead as if they are hiding in a little hole.

Does the member not find it passing strange that the NDP would consistently find new ways of opposing free trade agreements?

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the fact is if one is ideologically opposed to free trade in principle, one will find any excuse to oppose it.

I happen to chair the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group. We know how important trade is with Canada and the United States and we know how many jobs are dependent on it.

We hear them on the other side say that we have lost jobs, but the fact is free trade has been good for Canada. It has created millions and millions of jobs in the NAFTA area and in the more than 20 years since the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was passed.

Just last week I was in Biloxi, Mississippi, where the Canadian provinces and the southeastern states. We heard a presentation from the head of FedEx, which laid out all of the positive things that came out of free trade. I wish the hon. member had heard what was in that speech. This is the message the members from the House take down to the United States. These are the kind of positive things that we can get out of a free trade agreement with Colombia, moving forward for both Canadians and Colombians.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the past year I have received many letters and emails regarding the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia. It is undoubtedly an issue that many Canadians care about. It is an economic issue, sustaining jobs in Canada and Colombia, and it is a moral issue when we consider the human rights situation in Colombia.

People are worried. They see the violence and conflict in Colombia. They worry that with this agreement, Canada is supporting and even encouraging these actions.

The reality is that in order to make positive changes in the world, we must get involved. The other opposition parties want to wait until Colombia figures things out for itself and becomes a model country before Canada signs anything.

However, the truth is Canada and Colombia exchanged over $1.3 billion in trade last year. Canadian businesses are taking note of this accord. With the signing of this agreement, Canadian entrepreneurs are prepared to make long-term investments that will benefit the Colombian people.

Canadian agricultural interests are supportive of this agreement. Canadian business organizations, including some members of the small business community, see the opportunities with this agreement. Other Canadian companies such as SNC-Lavalin and Brookfield Asset Management have opened new offices in Bogota and established a $500 million fund to invest in Colombia.

All of this is happening outside of this new agreement that we are supporting today. I say “we” because the official opposition played an important part in getting this agreement. Economics is the motor of trade, but we also have a duty to engage our economic partners on a human level. Sometimes people need to talk about other things before they get people to listen to what they have to say.

Human rights are at the root of our Liberal values, so in order for us to support this agreement, we needed to ensure that the economic agreement with Colombia would have a component that protects the right of Colombian workers and keep our companies out of human rights conflicts. That is why it was such a key element that our international trade critic, the member for Kings—Hants, broke the barriers of partisan politics and negotiated an amendment compelling each country to monitor and publicly report on how this free trade agreement impacted human rights both in Canada and Colombia.

In fact, under this new Liberal deal, Canada and Colombia must publicly measure the impact of free trade on human rights in both countries. This is the first such human rights reporting requirement for any free trade agreement in history. It imposes a new requirement on Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to focus on, collect and analyze information on the impact of the Canada-Colombia FTA on human rights both in Canada and in Colombia. This information must be provided to the Parliament of Canada in an annual report, which can then be used to guide Canada's foreign policy with respect to Colombia. In addition, the public tabling of the annual reports in Parliament will allow for greater scrutiny by all opposition parties and provide a transparent way for civil society organizations from around the world to access this data as they conduct their own human rights impact assessments.

The Liberal amendment for a human rights reporting requirement was motivated by a desire for greater public oversight in the area of human rights and a belief that human rights were deeply intertwined with economic opportunity. We recognize that human rights abuses in Colombia have largely resulted from violence fuelled by Colombia's illegal narco-economy, which in turn has been perpetuated by Colombia's endemic poverty, persistently high unemployment and insufficient social infrastructure. We believe that increased political and economic engagement can help address the root causes of violence and improve the human rights situation in Colombia.

This age of globalization is about opening up to the world and not shutting it out. I visited Colombia 15 years ago. Back then, like today, I saw a lot of challenges, a lot of problems with violence, and a lot of concerns regarding citizenship, but I also saw a lot of poverty.

Canada has a responsibility to share what we do well: not only our economy, but also our impact on human rights. That is our responsibility.

The Liberal Party believes Canada has a moral obligation to help Colombia continue to improve its human rights record. We must work with Colombia to strengthen its public institutions and create legitimate economic opportunities for all Colombians.

This free trade agreement, with the Liberal amendment establishing a human rights reporting requirement, will significantly strengthen Canada's ability to achieve these goals and engage Colombia on the issue of human rights. Furthermore, the Liberal amendment would provide Canadians and Colombians with an ongoing assessment of progress in this area.

Colombia is at a critical juncture in its history, emerging from decades of violence and civil war. The Liberal Party of Canada believes that countries like Canada can support Colombia on its path to peace, justice and reconciliation by helping to build and strengthen Colombia's public institutions and provide greater public oversight on the human rights situation in Colombia.

Canada must not turn its back on Colombia and isolate its people at this time. Rather we must seize this opportunity to open doors, to engage the people of Colombia and to work with them to break the cycle of violence and human rights abuses that prevents the country from reaching its potential.

I spoke earlier about how trade agreements make good business sense, but I must ask all members to consider the human dimension of this free trade agreement.

The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement includes the most robust agreements on labour co-operation and the environment that Canada has ever signed.

With the help of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, some improvements have been recorded in Colombia regarding those human rights, but there is still a long way to go. There are many obstacles in the way of progress such as poverty, resulting from persistent high unemployment rates in Colombia.

To increase trade, Canada can help build Colombia's legitimate economy, creating real jobs for Colombians, including the most vulnerable. We can provide opportunities that help wean Colombians off their illegal and violent narco-economy. At the same time, this free trade agreement can help strengthen the protection of Colombian workers. The Liberal Party believes that through free trade, Canada can help build Colombia's legitimate economy and create real jobs and opportunities for all Colombians, especially the most vulnerable.

It is important that Canadians know that this agreement is open to accountability. The annual reports analyzing the impact of this FTA on human rights produced to the House of Commons will be available to the public and will be debated at trade committee. Witnesses will be heard, both from Colombia and Canada, on an annual basis. We will deepen the transparency and accountability of this trade agreement. We believe it will actually set a precedent for trade agreements signed between countries around the world.

It is important that we engage Colombia and the Colombian people as a partner in progress, to help them achieve a more peaceful and prosperous future.

I believe this agreement, particularly with this amendment, will strengthen human rights engagement on an ongoing basis and ensure that this Parliament, on an annual basis, will receive a report on the human rights impact of the agreement and will help continue the debate, continue the engagement and strengthen human rights and labour rights in Colombia.

As Canadians, we have the tremendous luck to live in a country that is open, free from violent conflicts, civil war and torture, a country that is prosperous, environmentally conscious, and socially inclined. However, with that luck, comes great responsibility. We must keep the channels open and do the right thing for all Canadians and Colombians. This is where we turn our focus from just making our country a better place to making the world a better place.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had a really hard time keeping up with the member's speech. I see a Canada-Colombia free trade agreement as an economic agreement, but it would force us to compromise our principles and our values. We cannot say that social and human rights are good for Canada, where we demanded and fought so hard for them, but then say that for Colombia, where these rights are violated, they are not important.

When I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I heard about the deaths of union activists and about truly horrible living and working conditions. I wonder what my colleague thinks about moving forward with this free trade agreement. Would it not mean moving forward with an agreement that would violate human and social rights?

I am very much against this free trade agreement.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. Our trade with Colombia is already in excess of $1.3 billion, and yet has no impact on human rights in Colombia. Signing this agreement will allow and require us to monitor the human rights situation and the impact of our trade with this country, and give us a tangible tool for improving the circumstances of the Colombian people in the future.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can only lament the ignorance to the actual situation in Colombia. The hon. member has not read any of the human rights reports, not one of them; not Human Rights Watch, not Amnesty International, not the CCIC, not the CLC report, not a single report to actually understand why every independent human rights organization on the planet that has commented on this agreement has talked about the risk of the human rights situation getting worse.

We combine that with the lamentable ignorance of the Liberals of their own amendment that does not compel anything more than the Colombian government to do what it already does, which is issue a report on itself every year. Every year the Colombian government says that it does a great job of protecting human rights and labour rights. No matter how many bodies are in the streets, the Colombian government always whitewashes itself.

The real question here is why the Liberals have completely betrayed all of those who voted for them in the past thinking that they were doing something on human rights and were concerned about human rights.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr.Speaker, something we can always count on is the NDP members standing to oppose any free trade agreement that is brought forward in the House. It is unfortunate because trade opens the way to engaging with other communities and other countries and provides a platform on which to work to build better prosperity.

Not every country in the world can have the laudable human rights record that Canada has. We are not without our imperfections but it is through prosperity, working together, leaning in on it and ensuring that we are working together to create a better, more prosperous future for--

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

We are going to do a forum in your riding.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I am not sure why the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster asked the question if he is not interested in listening to the response. It is difficult for the Chair to hear above all that noise.

There is enough time for a very brief question or comment. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I would like to leave the human rights side of this agreement aside for a moment and look at the trade statistics themselves.

The New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois have both been adamantly against this free trade agreement and yet in the province of Ontario, where many New Democratic Party members were elected, and in the province of Quebec, where the Bloc members were elected, they stand to gain more from this trade agreement than any other region in Canada. Quebec does nearly one-third of the trade that is carried on with Colombia, so I do not understand the position of the members.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the free trade agreement has the support of significant elements of the Colombian private sector and public sector. Specifically the private sector unions, headed by Gerardo Sánchez Zapata, said that this procedure was welcomed by Colombian workers and that they were thankful to the Parliament of Canada for its position because it helps strengthen the mechanism already in place that monitors and evaluates the progress in matters of human rights.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House for this ongoing debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. I think we have had over 50 hours of debate, both in the Chamber and at committee, on Colombia already. I am hoping to hear something new in these closing hours of debate today. So far I have not but I am still hopeful that something else will perhaps come up that we have not been aware of.

This is a good agreement for Colombia and Canada. It has a number of additions to it. Here in the Chamber I would like to publicly thank the hon. member for Kings—Hants for his intervention and the assistance of the Liberal Party on this agreement because it will benefit not just Colombians, who desperately need this agreement, but Canadians as well.

As the global economy continues to recover, one thing is clear: free and trade and partnerships, not protectionism, hold the key to long-term prosperity. Canada's approach has been to keep the doors to diversifying global trade open and this agreement is part of that strategy. We are aware that Colombia is already a significant trading partner for Canada, with two-way trade totalling over $1.3 billion in 2009. Colombia is an established market for Canadian exports and holds significant potential for Canadian businesses, the potential we need to continue to work toward a fragile recovery and continue to move forward in these very difficult economic times.

Over the past five years, Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia have grown by 55%. Colombia is also a strategic destination for Canadian investment, with the stock of Canadian investment in Colombia reaching over $1.1 billion in 2008. A country like ours, with so much expertise, can offer a lot to Colombia. Canadian engagement on trade is a key factor to the development of a safe, secure and prosperous Colombia. I think that all of us in the House would be in agreement on that point.

Canadian businesses currently are and have the potential to further become important players in the Colombian market. We need to be able to compete with those who are there, countries like the United States. Looking beyond investment services and market access for goods, this agreement is a comprehensive free trade agreement with terms that extend well beyond these subjects to include other areas of importance to Canadian businesses.

The free trade agreement provides comprehensive terms of the agreement in areas such as financial services, temporary entry of business persons, electronic commerce and telecommunications, and competition, monopolies and state enterprises.

For the second year in a row, the World Economic Forum ranked the Canadian banking system as the soundest in the world in its annual report on global competitiveness. Canadians can be proud. This is an area where Canada is truly excelling. Across the Americas, Canadian banks are helping foster economic growth through access to credit and other financial services. The Canadian financial services sector is a leader in providing high-quality and reliable financial services. This agreement includes comprehensive obligations for the financial services sector, including banking, insurance and securities.

These terms go beyond those already agreed to at the World Trade Organization and ensure that the Canada's financial services sector can compete with its American competitors in Colombia. These market access commitments are complimented by key terms that ensure non-discrimination, provide a right of establishment for financial institutions and promote regulatory transparency in the financial sector.

Those are key elements that our sector is seeking to ensure it is able to compete in an increasingly competitive global market. This government is responding to this demand.

Another important area included in this agreement to ensure that businesses are able to fully maximize the opportunities in Colombia is temporary entry for business persons. Our government is responding to this demand.

This is an important issue for Canadian businesses to ensure their employees are able to work in Colombia and is a natural complement to market access for goods, services and investment. In recognition of the significant number of Canadian companies operating in the region, the agreement removes unnecessary barriers impairing the ability of companies to bring in the skilled workers they need. This would include impediments such as the requirement for labour certification tests, quotas, proportionality requirements or any prior approval procedure. The agreement extends to an extensive list of professions, including various technicians and provisions for spousal employment.

This goes beyond coverage previously achieved in any Canadian free trade agreement. We are tearing down the barriers to trade when Canadians need it most.

The strength of this trade agreement does not stop there but also extends into the areas of electronic commerce and telecommunications. Electronic commerce is an important addition to the previous free trade agreement in light of the importance of ensuring that new digital economy issues, such as protection of personal information, consumer protection and paperless trade, are not overlooked.

Those issues are increasingly important for businesses in the 21st century and Canada and Colombia have recognized this fact. Colombia has agreed to a permanent moratorium on customs duties for products delivered electronically. This includes items such as electronic software, music purchased online and digital books. This moratorium is important not only for businesses but consumers as well.

In addition to electronic commerce, telecommunications provisions were also included to support the competitive development of the telecommunications sector. The obligations contained in this agreement go beyond Colombia's current obligations through the World Trade Organization. Through this free trade agreement, Canadian telecommunications service providers would be able to compete with their American counterparts in the Colombia market.

Clearly, there are many benefits of this free trade agreement with Colombia that go beyond trade, goods and investment.

The final area that I would like to touch on is the terms in this free trade agreement related to competition, monopolies and state enterprises. This agreement meets Canada's objective of ensuring that anti-competitive business practices do not undermine the benefits of trade and investment liberalization achieved in the overall agreement.

Canada and Colombia will co-operate on issues related to the competition policy through their respective authorities. The obligations ensure that Canadian companies doing business in Colombia are treated fairly with respect to their investments.

Overall, this is a high quality and comprehensive trade agreement. This is a market where many key exporters have seen enormous potential. Colombia has stable political institutions, progressive laws and strong pro-market orientation.

These strong economic fundamentals were noted by the World Bank in its report, “Doing Business 2010”. No less than the World Bank has rated Colombia among the top 10 countries in the world for regulatory reform and the best country in Latin America for doing business.

Quite frankly, if we listen to some of the rhetoric that has taken place in the House about Colombia and then look at such respected institutions as the World Bank, there is a serious dichotomy, a serious split between the reality of what major players in the world's economy, such as the World Bank, are saying and what the critics of this free trade agreement are saying.

Colombia is well positioned to weather the global economic crisis. The country has sound macro-economic policies and improved security, which have resulted in favourable economic conditions and stronger demand for imported products. This represents new opportunities for Canadian exporters.

This free trade agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across Canada. Its passage through the House will ensure that Canadian business is able to take advantage of the opportunities in this important market. Our government believes that our businesses can compete with the best in the world and this agreement will help them do it.

The world is quickly discovering the benefits of doing business with Canada and we are there to assist to make that happen.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, of course, to the hon. member's comments. It occurs to me that the Conservatives are not even really serious about Bill C-2. I was thinking back to the prorogation we just had. It seems to me that this bill was well on its way before prorogation. Then, after prorogation, we had to start the bill all over from the beginning again.

If the Conservatives were serious about this bill, why did they bother proroguing in the first place and stopping all these bills, including crime bills and other bills that they said they were so interested in? Now these bills have to start all over again from the beginning. It seems to me that they are starting to agree with the NDP that this is not a good bill.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat taken aback by the question. In the early part of the question, it sounded as if we may have actually one NDP member who has read the agreement, who perhaps understands at least a minute amount of it, and is willing to support it. But I understand now that that is actually not the case.

I would like to know of one trade agreement, free trade agreement, any trade agreement, that the New Democratic Party has supported. They do not exist. There is no such thing. The NDP is anti-trade. I do not know how it expects the people in Canada to survive as an exporting nation, to create jobs and opportunities for our people, and I do not know how it expects Colombians to create jobs and opportunities for their people, if we do not trade with one another.

There were comments made earlier about bodies in the streets in Colombia. I am going to tell members something. I personally have been to Colombia. I know people from Colombia. I have friends in Colombia. In the 1970s and the 1980s, there were bodies in the streets, but they are not there today. There is a freedom of movement that has never occurred before in the history of Colombia. There is a freedom and a sense of individual protection and safety that was never there before in the history of Colombia. That country is moving in the right direction.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, for his cogent intervention on this very important issue.

As he and I both know, unfortunately, the NDP and the Bloc are mired in this archaic ideology where they will not support any type of free trade agreement. It does not matter with who it is. They do not understand that it is a big world out there. We have supply chains all over the world. We have opportunities to build Canada's prosperity. They simply shut their minds to that.

However, I want to turn my colleague's attention to the issue of diversifying Canada's trade.

As he knows, back in the 1980s and the 1990s, we signed a free trade agreement with the United States, which later on became the North American Free Trade Agreement. It has done marvellous things for our economy. It has dramatically increased trade between our nations. However, it is always dangerous to rely on one major trading partner.

Perhaps my colleague could comment on the advisability of expanding those trading relationships and signing additional free trade agreements, such as this Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, upon forming government, our government established two new priorities.

The first one was re-engagement with the Americas, which would enable us to concentrate on economies such as Colombia and sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, and to work with Panama, Peru and other nations in Central, South and Latin America, and the Caribbean.

The other part of our strategy was a global commerce strategy; that is, to find new markets around the world. That is why we are fully engaged with the European Union on signing a comprehensive trade agreement. That is why we are fully engaged with countries like Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. We signed a free trade agreement with those four nations. That is why we are looking at the BRIC economies of the world: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. These are the growing economies of the world.

We can no longer simply be dependent upon one major trading partner. We must look further afield and diversify our trading partners. That is good for Canada and, quite frankly, that is good for the rest of the world.

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is vote buying and vote selling, misuse of identity documents, illegal possession of identity documents and stolen documents. This is all part of the election in Colombia.

There is coercion and intimidation of voters. My gosh, this is what democracy is all about in Colombia. Fraud is committed by polling officers at the polling stations, wow. There is obstruction of the electoral observers so they cannot go and see what is going on. There is control over public transportation to prevent voters from getting to the polling stations. On top of that, there is an absence of educational outreach to voters to teach them about the importance of citizenship and participation.

Is this the Canadian vision, or the Conservative Party or maybe the Liberal Party's vision, of democracy and an election that is fair and free?

This kind of report came from several countries, including Canada, United States, Germany, U.K. and Mexico, participating in an extensive pre-electoral observation mission. Their reports talk about widespread fear among the Colombian population in this region because they are worried about their lives, intimidation, and what would happen to their financial resources.

The government manipulates the social programs for its own political ends. It says, “If you don't vote for me, you're going to get cut off from the families in action benefits”. That is not a fair and free election. That is not what democracy is all about. If the residents and voters do not attend political meetings or vote for the governing party's candidates, they can have their benefits cut off. That is not what democracy is all about.

The other situation is that funding is transferred from drug trafficking to finance campaigns. That is criminal behaviour. There were agreements between candidates, government officials and companies to award government contracts after the election if they donated to their campaign.

Occasionally, we see this here in Canada. It becomes a scandal. We have heard about brown envelopes over restaurant tables, or sometimes a meeting at a certain bar or maybe with certain mutual friends or former MPs, I do not know. Certainly, this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated. That is not what the New Democratic Party of Canada's definition is of a fair and free election, and that is not what democracy is all about.

Democracy should not be about fear. That is what is happening in Colombia. Apparently, the mission recommends that the nation update its electoral census to avoid situations reported in which the dead vote. I know that occasionally some MPs go and sign up people who may be dead to become a member of certain parties, but that is not what should be tolerated.

We have seen report after report. Two years after the Conservative government started on this free trade deal, what has happened? There is more fear and increased intimidation. This is according to a 2009 report of the office of the United Nations high commissioner. Regarding human rights in Colombia, he said that the office located in Colombia had observed an increase in the number of intimidations and death threats by letters and emails against human rights defenders, social and community leaders, and members of other marginalized groups.

I keep hearing that the more we engage with the Colombians, the safer it is for them. Actually, the opposite happens because the government is tolerating it, even encouraging it through its secret services.

It is given encouragement by these free trade deals, by the Liberal Party and Conservative Party in Canada and the Conservative government, that we will reward the Colombian government even though it continues to intimidate its opponents, The elections in Colombia are not fair nor free. We will reward Colombia by providing even more trade. That is the exact opposite of what Canada should do.

Canada should send a clear message to the existing government of Colombia and say that we believe in democracy. We should send a clear message that we believe that elections should be fair and free, and that when the Colombian government sends secret services to intimidate opponents, to fabricate allegations against its opponents, to sabotage and inflict terror upon its political opponents and citizens, that when secret services that are condoned by the government conduct smearing campaigns, we will not reward such behaviour. We will say no to any free trade agreement with a president and a government that is of this nature. If not, the message we are sending is that we will support criminal behaviour and elections that are conducted in a way that is totally undemocratic.

What we should be calling for instead is a halt to this trade agreement. We should be calling for an independent and comprehensive human rights impact assessment, not done by the government itself but by an arm's length agency. And until that kind of assessment takes place, we should not proceed by saying to that government that we will have a trade relationship with it. If not, those people who have been jailed, terrorized and forcefully displaced will feel that justice is not on their side.

Since 1997, between 2.6 million and 6.8 million hectares of land in Colombia have been acquired by violence, most of them through the paramilitary strategy. Not only does this kind of government intimidate its citizens but it has forcefully removed land from people, so it certainly is not a government we should support by negotiating free trade with it.

We have also noticed, with two successive terms of this government, that it has focused on intensifying the wall. We can always tell what kind of government it is. Does it rule by hope or by fear, and can we examine its defence budget? In these two terms, the Colombian government's defence budget has risen from 5.2% of the GDP in 2002 to 14.2% of GDP, that is $11 billion in 2010.

That is a lot of money that could have been used to help feed its people, to help bring some of the 4.9 million people who have been displaced by force in the last 25 years back into their country. It could help some of the people who are starving, who are being intimidated by the secret services. Instead, it is putting its money into the defence budget rather than the education budget. The education budget is only 13.9% of GDP. Its defence budget is even higher.

That is why we should vote against this free trade deal with Colombia.

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5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member spoke at length about human rights issues in Colombia, but I have not heard the NDP speak about human rights violations in Venezuela. I would be very interested in her view of the Chavez regime. I would be interested in why the NDP members are so conspicuously silent on their brethren Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Why are they being so silent when there is a Canadian physician who has been detained in Venezuela? Dr. Carlos Cossio and seven members of his family were arrested a few weeks ago accused by the Venezuelan government without any evidence whatsoever of espionage. They are being detained in Venezuela against their will.

I would be very interested in knowing why the NDP members refuse to stand up to bullies and thugs like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Is it because of their ideology that they are all right with left-wing thuggery in Venezuela and they are opposed to some sort of ideological perspective that is more in keeping with market-based economies?

I cannot understand the NDP members at the best of times, but I certainly cannot understand why they are being so silent on defending fundamental human rights in Venezuela.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the former Conservative member of Parliament now sits on the Liberal bench, and there is not a lot of change there. Any time a member of Parliament tries to change the subject and change the channel, there is something to hide. We are talking about Bill C-2, the free trade agreement with Colombia.

I understand that the Conservative members are so worried about this bill that last Friday, when the bill was not even on the agenda, they moved a time allocation motion to try to change the channel and say that we are going to have closure, similar to what occurred with respect to the HST.

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5:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Idiotic.

Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Answer the question.