Mr. Speaker, I am really thrilled to be speaking again. I am sure that this time around the hon. Conservative member will be recognized for a question when that time comes. I am sure he will be very eager and feverishly working on a question or two over the next 20 minutes. Nevertheless, he will have to wait for 20 minutes before he gets to ask his question.
We have gone through a very, very lengthy process dealing with this particular piece of legislation. I certainly want to compliment our critic for his enormous efforts over the last year or so on this issue. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster has been tireless in his efforts to stop this free trade agreement. It took the combined coalition of the Conservative government and the Liberal opposition to crush his efforts, and they did it in a very unsavoury way at the end of the day. The fact of the matter is, they denied key witnesses who should have been able to present on the bill.
Many key witnesses from Colombia, as well as Canadian and Colombian trade unions, were denied the right to appear at the committee, including the CLC, which represents 3.5 million workers. The National Union of Public and General Employees, NUPGE, one of Canada's largest unions with over 340,000 members, was refused. Several other organizations were cut out of the process by this unholy alliance between the government and its Liberal servants in this case.
I only have to look back to two years ago historically to see that there was a point at which the Liberal Party was on side, more or less, in terms of opposition to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. Under the previous leadership and the previous critic, the Liberals were in agreement to have an independent human rights study, which is what has been demanded and still is being demanded as something that is absolutely necessary in this process.
As soon as the Liberal Party changed leaders and the leader changed the critic, the position of the Liberal Party on the Colombia free trade deal turned right in line with that of the Conservatives. The Conservatives received a bit of a gift, because they knew that the deal was dead. They knew this deal was as dead as the Colombia-United States deal.
Let us deal with that for a moment. The George Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia and the United States in 2006, four years ago, and the U.S. Congress to this day has still not ratified that deal. The member for Kings—Hants and I were in Washington on February 19 and 20 meeting with up to 40 individual members of Congress and the U.S. Senate.
While we did not include this item on our agenda, we let them bring it up. There were at least three Republicans, not Democrats, but Republican members of Congress who said, “We love Uribe. We love the Colombian-U.S. free trade deal, but it is dead. It will never make it through the Congress of the United States. It is very sad, but it will never happen”. Why does the Conservative member opposite cling to this hope that passing it here in Canada will somehow revive it in the United States? Maybe that is the government's intention, to basically show, in the Conservatives' own minds, leadership and pass the Canada-Colombia free trade deal and ratify it so that it will be an example. Perhaps that is the strategy here. The Conservatives could go to the United States Congress and say that Canada passed it and the U.S. should follow suit.
We have argued all along that this is absolutely the wrong way to deal with free trade, particularly with a country like Colombia. As I indicated before, this deal was dead in the House in terms of ratification until single-handedly the member for Kings—Hants resurrected the whole process through some late night partying with the Colombian leadership. I think he claimed he was dancing until the sun rose. He did get a signature on an amendment which he felt would make the agreement fly.
The Conservatives were only too willing to go along with this because they had nothing to lose. They were going nowhere until the member for Kings--Hants saved them. He has brought in an amendment which essentially says that the Colombian government will make up its own human rights annual reports. Is that not sweet? That is the standard to which the Liberals are prepared to hold the Colombian government. Essentially it would put full trust and faith in the Colombian government to police itself.
It is going to be business as usual in Colombia. There is no real incentive now for the Colombian government to clean up its act in terms of human rights. Before we ratify this free trade deal, we have the power over the Colombian government to say that unless and until it can show that it has changed its approach and cleaned up human rights abuses we will not ratify this agreement. What have the Conservatives done? They have simply laid down, given up, and rolled up the white flag. The government is going to ratify the agreement regardless of what happens in Colombia. Colombia can come up with its own annual reports and self-assess its progress on human rights.
That is a terrible way for the Liberal Party to approach agreements like this. I feel worse for the Liberals than I do for the Conservative government because they actually believe all this stuff and they got what they wanted.
It has been pointed out that the NDP has given more speeches than there are members in the NDP caucus. The government said that 40 NDP members have spoken but there are only 36 members in our caucus. I have no idea how the government does its math. Suffice it to say that we have fought this agreement for as long as we could.
People must wonder why this agreement is such a high priority for the government. In 2008, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Colombia totalled more than $1.3 billion. We have always said that there is trade with Colombia and there always will be trade with Colombia, but there is just no reason to implement a free trade agreement.
Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia totalled $703.8 million in 2008. Major exports include agriculture goods such as wheat, barley and lentils, as well as industrial products, paper products and heavy machinery.
Canadian merchandise imports from Colombia totalled $643 million in 2008. Major imports consisted of coffee, bananas, coal, sugar and flowers.
Bill C-2 has attracted considerable attention from the media and various civil society groups, many of which were opposed to Canada's implementing a free trade agreement with Colombia because of its human rights record and because of the fear of the impact of free trade on investments and the environment.
We have experience. We have dealt with NAFTA for a number of years now and in the case of agriculture, for example tomato growers, in certain parts of Mexico, we have found that indigenous farmers have been put under a lot of pressure and put out of business because of the free trade agreement. If that could happen under NAFTA, it can be suggested that the same could happen under this type of free trade agreement.
I will deal with this later if I have enough time, as it is hard to fit in all of the points, but the fact is that there are indigenous farmers all over South America and certainly in Colombia who have sustained themselves for many years with their small farms. Free trade will flood that market with imported foreign food and will put those farmers out of business. That is what happened in Mexico and that is not good for the long-term sustainability of the local population.
We seem to think that somehow trucking produce around the world and spending a huge amount of money on fossil fuels, gasoline and trucks to get the produce there is the way to go. The reality is that we should probably be pulling back and trying to produce as much of our product in the local market. We should be encouraging the Colombian farmers to improve their farming methods but also certainly to produce the products there so they become more sustainable, rather than simply specializing in nothing but one product to export to Canada, and then of course have other products sent from Canada to Colombia, as opposed to developing independent self-sustainable enterprises.