Mr. Speaker, throughout the debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, I have said that we cannot let ourselves be blinded by ideologies that assume all free trade agreements are good, or on the other side, that all free trade agreements are bad. Instead we must judge each agreement, and in this case, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, in terms of how it will really affect in the long term the people of Canada and Colombia.
In Canada, farmers, factory workers, small businesses and families across the country will benefit from increased trade with one of Latin America's fastest growing economies. In Colombia, thousands of lives have been destroyed by decades of civil war and narcoterrorism. The decent, hard-working people of Colombia deserve a better future, a future driven by legitimate opportunities from trade and investment, which can help free Colombians from the violence and human rights abuses fuelled by the drug trade.
Colombia has made significant progress over the last decade. Security has strengthened and human rights abuses have declined. Earlier this year, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, tabled her annual report on Colombia. In her report, she recognized the “significant progress Colombia has made in human rights”. President Obama has also recognized the progress that has been made.
The foundation of this progress is Colombia's strong, independent judiciary. President Uribe's acceptance of the Supreme Court decision, which limited his presidency to two terms, as well as the vibrant presidential election that is now taking place, also help to underscore and demonstrate Colombia's democracy and respect for the rule of law.
However, Colombia's social progress remains fragile and incomplete. Much more needs to be done. Poverty, unemployment and lack of legitimate economic opportunity force too many Colombians to turn to the violent life of the drug trade. For too many Colombians, it is the only way they can make a living and provide for their families, but we can help. In fact, we have a responsibility to help.
Canada has a moral obligation to help Colombia build its legitimate economy, and we have a long history of providing foreign aid to Colombia. These Canadian aid dollars have helped in building vital social infrastructure in Colombia. We have helped protect vulnerable Colombians by improving security programs for women and children. We have helped Colombia with foreign aid to help train labour inspectors, to strengthen the enforcement labour laws and the respect of human rights. Canada has helped in the area of resource development. We are helping to strengthen environmental protection and improving community engagement.
These are a few examples of how Canada and Colombia are working together now, but aid dollars are not enough. Foreign aid does not provide the economic levers that a developing country needs to become self-sufficient. For that we need trade. We must encourage investment that is socially and environmentally responsible, investment that provides economic opportunities for all Colombians, including the most vulnerable, while respecting and strengthening human rights.
A free trade agreement with Colombia can create real jobs and real opportunity for Colombians. The agreements on the environment and labour co-operation will help ensure that our trade is conducted in a socially and environmentally responsible way.
As Liberals, we recognize and have a history of understanding that economic engagement can help strengthen human rights engagement. Prime Minister Trudeau was certainly no slouch when it came to human rights, but he was also the first western leader to engage post-revolutionary China, even before President Nixon.
Throughout our discussions on free trade with Colombia, the Liberal Party focused on the human rights situation. For us, it is vital that free trade with Colombia strengthens and improves the protection of human rights for all Colombians, including the most vulnerable. The Liberal Party listened to the concerns of Canadians and Colombians and we acted. We insisted on a human rights amendment to this free trade agreement. That is why we now have a binding treaty on human rights, a treaty that was signed by both the Canadian and Colombian governments last month. That is why the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is now the first trade agreement in the world to include an ongoing human rights impact assessment.
Under this agreement, Canada must measure and analyze the effect of the FTA on human rights in both countries. In fact, both Canada and Colombia must table annual reports in their Parliaments, analyzing the impact of this FTA on human rights. When these reports are tabled in Parliament, they will be public. These reports will be examined in committee, where civil society organizations and other expert witnesses from both Canada and Colombia will be heard.
This will ensure that we do not stop focusing on human rights when this FTA goes into effect. It will ensure that, on an ongoing basis, we will have constructive engagement on human rights for years, perhaps decades to come.
This Liberal amendment and the treaty on human rights and free trade has received support in Canada and Colombia and around the world. Dr. James Harrison, a professor at the University of Warwick told our trade committee that:
—the Canadian proposal is exciting and could become a model in this area, because no other country has yet included this within the scope of a trade agreement....I think the idea of a human rights... assessment is a great endeavour to be embarking on...
Mr. Gaétan Lavertu, a former deputy minister for Foreign Affairs for Canada and a former Canadian Ambassador to Colombia spoke about this human rights agreement. He said:
I think it's great that we have an opportunity to review the impact of the agreement. We should probably do that for all agreements. It's not enough to just sign agreements; we have to see once in a while what the implications have been, what the results have been, and I think that will be very useful. It will provide us with an opportunity to discuss human rights not only multilaterally but also bilaterally on a much more extensive basis.
Another former Canadian deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter Harder, called the Liberal amendment a:
—significant innovation in free trade agreements in that it provides both the Colombian and Canadian legislatures the opportunity to annually review and assess the human rights implications of the agreement. I expect that future parliaments will build on this precedent when they consider proposed free trade agreements.
Colombians have also expressed support for this human rights treaty. For example, Dr. Leon Valencia, executive director of Arco Iris, a human rights organization, has stated:
I think it is interesting and useful...This will provide an important yearly forum to discuss the situation in Colombia, and will give Canadian citizens the opportunity to monitor human rights violations in our country.
Dr. Gerardo Sánchez Zapata, president of Colombia's textile and apparel industry trade union spoke on behalf of several Colombian unions, private sector unions, when he said:
This procedure is welcomed by Colombian workers and we are thankful...it helps strengthen a mechanism already in place that monitors and evaluates the progress in matters of human rights and freedom of association in our country...
Our Parliament has discussed this free trade agreement at length. Since 2008, free trade with Colombia has been the subject of well over 100 hours of debate at second reading and testimony at committee. In fact, the House of Commons has devoted more time to the Colombia-Canada FTA at second reading and committee than it did to each of the federal budgets since 2008.
Many witnesses on this FTA have appeared before committee two or three times already. The discussions that have taken place have been extensive and nobody can say that the ratification of this agreement has been rushed. Democracy requires a fulsome debate that makes every reasonable effort to ensure that all views can be heard, but this debate must be followed by a vote. It is time for that vote to take place.
It is clear that a majority of Colombians support this free trade agreement. Of all the Colombians mainstream political parties, only one opposes these free trade agreements, whether it is with the U.S., the E.U. or with Canada, the Polo Democrático Alternativo. In the congressional elections of May 14, the Polo Party garnered a paltry 6% of the vote. In the most recent presidential elections, the Polo candidate, Petro, won only 9% of the vote.
All of the other parties in Colombia, the Green Party, the Party of the U and all the others support free trade agreements. If there is to be sustainable progress, the people of Colombia know that they need legitimate economic opportunities to unshackle them from the violent narco-economy. This trade agreement, in combination with the Liberal amendment and the binding treaty on human rights, offers Colombia economic progress as well as human rights progress.
This agreement represents hope and opportunity for Colombians to have a better way of life. It also offers Canadians the opportunities to be a partner in progress with the people of Colombia in that progress. For these reasons, the Liberal Party is proud to support this amended FTA and its accompanying treaty on human rights.