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NEWS: Harper in Latin America to promote ‘free trade’

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently on a six-day tour of Latin American countries to promote ‘free trade’ agreements with Canada.

BRAZIL: For the next two days (Monday and Tuesday), Harper will be in Brazil. CBC reports, “An estimated 400 Canadian companies already operate in Brazil, Canada’s 10th-largest trading partner. Exports of Canadian merchandise to Brazil totaled $2.6 billion in 2010, up 60 per cent from the year before, and imports were $3.3 billion. …Negotiating a free-trade deal with Brazil (is complex though, because it would need) the consent of three other South American countries — Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — that are members of a common economic bloc called Mercosur to enter into such an agreement.”

COLOMBIA: “Three years ago, Canada inked a (controversial) free-trade agreement with Colombia, where Harper visits Wednesday. That deal comes into force next week.”

COSTA RICA: “In 2002, Canada (under prime minister Jean Chrétien) signed a free-trade agreement with Costa Rica, where Harper will stop on Thursday.”

HONDURAS: “On Friday, Harper will travel to Honduras, where negotiations have been taking place for quite some time to reach a free-trade agreement. …Honduras…went through a military coup d’etat in 2009 and a lot of turmoil since as different factions fought for control. …Canada is closer to striking a deal with Honduras than with any of the other countries. However the PMO has said it does not expect to announce a free trade deal with Honduras on this trip.”

EL SALVADOR, GUATEMALA, NICARAGUA: Three of these countries are not included on Harper’s tour, but news articles have noted that, “Talks with the so-called Central American Four, comprising Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, have dragged on for a decade.”

Postmedia News reports that, “NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said that the Conservative government isn’t ‘on the radar screen’ in Brazil and is failing to make significant trade accomplishments there because of a lack of diplomacy. …Dewar was also critical of the free trade deal with Colombia, saying that while ‘side agreements’ were prepared to supposedly protect the environment and the rights of workers, they likely will amount to nothing more than optics.”

The Council of Canadians will be monitoring the ‘free trade’ talks during this trip. A ‘free trade’ agreement announcement is not expected in Brazil, in part because of Mercosur, but also, as noted in the Globe and Mail, because Brazil is more “protectionist” and “Brazilian businesses are nervous about foreign competition right now because the country’s currency has risen steeply against others in recent years, making it harder for them to make a living selling goods and services abroad.”