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Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement hearings continue!

CoC staff Carleen Pickard and Matt Ramsden (who tweeted the hearing) and Barbara Wood via teleconference

CoC staff Carleen Pickard and Matt Ramsden (who tweeted the hearing) and Barbara Wood via teleconference

Thanks to the flood of letters, emails and calls to MP offices demanding that members of the Standing Committee on International Trade continue to hear from the long list of witnesses speaking to the ‘Brison deal‘ on the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement – Barbara Wood, executive director of Co-Development Canada and myself were called to testify yesterday (May 13, 2010). In February we both participated in an International Pre-Electoral Observation Mission to Colombia and reported our findings to the Committee (all MPs had previously received a copy of the Mission’s final report in March).

The Standing Committee on International Trade is an all-party committee made of of MPs:

Chair: MP Lee Richardson (Cons-Calgary Centre)

Vice-Chairs: MP John Cannis (Lib-Scarborough Centre), MP Jean-Yves Laforest (Bloc- Saint-Maurice-Champlain)

Members: MP Dean Allison (Cons-Niagara West-Glanbrook), MP Scott Brison (Lib-Kings-Hants), MP Ron Cannan (Cons-Kelowna-Lake Country), MP Claude Guimond (Bloc-Rimouski-Neigette-Temiscouata-Les Basques), MP Ed Holder (Cons-London West), MP Peter Julian (NDP-Burnaby-New Westminster), MP Gerald Keddy (Cons-South Shore-St. Margaret’s), MP Mario Silva (Lib-Davenport), MP Brad Trost (Cons-Saskatoon-Humboldt)

There are two current issues of note in the Committee:

1) The independent Human Rights Impact Assessment – In November 2008 the Committee recommended that the government request an independent Human Rights Impact Assessment Report (HRIA) before ratification of the CCFTA, but this has not happened to date and the Committee currently seems uninterested in following up it’s recommendation.

In a briefing note (Making a Bad Situation Worse) released in 2009 the Canadian Council of International Co-Operation highlighted:

“In 2008, the Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT) concluded that the FTA with Colombia should not proceed without further improvements in the human rights situation in Colombia and without a comprehensive and independent human rights impact assessment (HRIA). It also called for legislated provisions on corporate social responsibility to address the implementation of universal human rights standards by Canadian entities investing in Colombia.

Canadian civil society organizations affirm that the preconditions are not in place for an FTA with Colombia given the human rights crisis in that country. Any eventual deal should only proceed on the basis of a HRIA to ensure the agreement will generate positive social and economic benefits for vulnerable populations.”

2) The ‘Brison deal‘ – ON March 25 MP and Liberal Trade Critic Scott Brison proposed an amendment to the CCFTA Bill – Bill C2 – to fast track the ratification of the FTA.  The amendment over steps the need for the HRIA and suggests that the FTA only do human rights assessments once an agreement was in place, and that would allow the Colombian and Canadian governments do the assessing. Since Committee hearings began on the amendment, not one witness has credited the Brison deal as a credible replacement for the HRIA, nor a suitable mechanism to improve human rights in Colombia.

As Barbara Wood stated in her testimony yesterday:

Can trade agreements help to resolve human rights issues? We don’t think that in this case it’s possible because we’re involved with a government that is complicit in human rights violations through judicial inaction and direct involvement of its agents. The human rights amendment that has been put forward is not an adequate instrument to address the serious situation, especially because it relies on the Colombian government itself to make reports on itself.”

The Committee hearing was packed with lobbyists for the FTA – who participated in our Tweet In for Colombia – Stop the FTA – countering and opposing the testimony that Barbara and I presented with comments such as:

Ryder_Lee #CIIT in action. MPCannis asks where aren’t there human rts violations. Cda has ’em. Do we stop trading? http://yfrog.com/2maymmj #noccfta

graingrowers Colombians want economic growth and real jobs. It’s egotistical of the witnesses to say their narrow interests are more important. #noccfta
The Committee is on recess until May 25, when testimony will resume – sign the action alert now to ensure that the Committee does not shut down the hearings until the full list of witnesses has been called.

More soon,