The leaders of Canada and Colombia signed a new free trade agreement
here Friday that opens new markets for Canadian beef, pork, potatoes
and other products in the South American country.
Stephen Harper and President Alvaro Uribe signed the agreement just
ahead of the annual leaders summit for the Asia Pacific Economic
Co-operation forum, which begins here Saturday.
The two leaders
also signed side deals that will hold companies operating in either
country to international labour standards and encourage the use of
voluntary codes to protect the environment.
Canadian officials heralded the deals saying they will help Canadian
exporters struggling through the economic downturn. Canadian companies
sold about $600 million US worth of goods and services to Colombia last
year while importing about $400 million worth of goods, chiefly coffee,
bananas, fuel and coal.
But it could be at least a year or more
before the legislatures in both countries ratify the deal, clearing the
way for its actual implementation.
Colombia tariffs on about 98
per cent of all Canadian imports by value will be phased out over a
five-to-10-year period after implementation.
Canadian trade officials say their goal is to have implementing legislation approved by Parliament by January 2010.
The government also has a free trade deal with Peru waiting for ratification by Parliament.
Together, the Peru and Colombian trade deals give Canadian exporters access to a market of about 70 million people.
The Colombian negotiations, which began in earnest after Harper visited Bogota in July 2007, were largely concluded in June.
Canadian officials said several companies had been pushing for the deal.
manufacturer McCain’s, for example, was eager to sell french fries made
in Atlantic Canada in the region. A Parliament Hill lobbyist with
knowledge of the negotiations said McCain’s had even considered
shutting down some production capacity in Atlantic Canada to set up
shop in South America if the deal had not gone through.
Colombia has agreed to phase out a tariff on french fries over five years.
Canadian producers of wheat, pulses, barley, paper products and heavy equipment should also benefit from the deal.
the Labour Co-operation Agreement, one of the side deals that accompany
the free trade agreement, Colombia and Canada agreed to worker
protection standards adopted by the International Labour Organization.
Among other things, those standards ban child labour and forced labour
and commits each government to respect a collective bargaining process.
labour agreement provides for a dispute resolution process. Violators
of labour standards in either country can be punished, as well, with
fines of up to $15 million.
Some human rights activists, though, have been concerned about Uribe’s ability to enforce his country’s laws.
visiting Bogota earlier this month, United Nations human rights chief
Navi Pillay said, “Colombia faces grave human rights challenges in its
ongoing conflict, including hostage-taking, extrajudicial executions
and arbitrary arrest and detention.” Pillay said these incidents
continue despite measures taken by Uribe’s government – including the
dismissal of senior military officers engaged in such conduct – to
protect vulnerable groups, such as women, journalists and union
Canadian officials, though, say strengthening trade
and helping to improve the Colombian economy helps to improve the
security situation in the country. Officials noted that as Colombia’s
economy has grown since 2000, violence between drug cartels and the
government has decreased.
“While there is no denying that
Colombians continue to live with serious security challenges, the
improvements we have seen over the last several years gives us much
reason for optimism,” Harper said in a statement.
agreement on the environment, however, simply says both countries will
respect their own environmental laws and policies and will encourage
voluntary practices of corporate social responsibility when it comes to
protecting the natural habitat.
The deal also opens the
possibility that professionals, such as engineers, architects and
doctors, who have been certified to work in one country could work in
the other without having to go through a recertification process. The
governments of both countries said they would “encourage” their
professional organizations to negotiate mutual recognition agreements
with a priority being given to engineers.
Colombia, a country of
45 million people covers an area about the size of Spain in the
northwest corner of South America. It has a coastline on both the
Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Despite its Pacific coast,
Colombia is not a member of APEC. And, as it straddles the Equator,
Colombia’s rain forests and Andes Mountains have some of the most
diverse biological resources in the world. (Canwest)