sábado, noviembre 10, 2007

Canada Accelerates Colombian Free Trade Deal!

Stephen Harper’s visit to Latin America this summer signalled a deliberate shift in Canadian Foreign Policy away from Africa to Latin America. Despite a strong critique from Canadian civil society, Harper travelled to Colombia where he announced Free Trade negotiations with Colombia and Peru.

Colombia is a country awash in a human rights crisis. The UN declares it the worst humanitarian crisis, second only to Sudan. The government has close ties with Colombia’s notorious paramilitary forces that are responsible for thousands of disappearances and extra-judicial executions.


Under President Uribe’s charge more than a million additional people have become internally displaced for a total of three million. On average, eight civilians are killed each day. Moreover, a recent OAS Mission has identified seventy new or re-formed paramilitary organizations. In the midst of this staggering impunity Harper stated during his visit, “We’re there to encourage you and help you. We’re not going to say fix all your social, political and human rights problems, and only then will we engage in trade relations with you. That’s a ridiculous position.” Such a rigid position that equates democracy and freedom with free trade negotiations serves to further exacerbate the human crisis. Even the US Congress has currently delayed a vote on the US-Colombia FTA due to human rights concerns.

Meanwhile, while supporting Colombia, Harper has made strong public criticisms of human rights violations in China, clearly stating that the mighty dollar will not trump human rights

The Canadian strategy of accelerating negotiations appears to be bound to the US on several fronts. Publicly Harper wrote an emotional opinion piece urging the US to support Colombia by signing their FTA. He states, “…if the US turns its back on its friends in Colombia, this will set back our cause far more than any Latin American dictator…”

Most disturbing is an apparent alignment of negotiating texts. Researcher John Foster notes that the NAFTA Commission (composed of the three countries trade ministers) met just before the Montebello Summit (see more below). Amongst other decisions, it was agreed to “assess other trade agreements that each country had negotiated to identify meaningful differences.” Thus, although shocking but perhaps not that surprising, Canada’s negotiating texts now contain provisions for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), something unheard of in the Canada-Central America Free Trade deal. As is generally understood, the inclusion of IPR impacts people’s right to health most by prohibiting access to essential medicines due to extended IPR provisions that benefit pharmaceutical companies. In Peru, a country that is negotiating FTAs with both the US and Canada, NGOs recently noted that the US-FTA with Peru will mean 800,000 Peruvians will lose access to medicine. A Canadian deal will further extend this human rights violation.

Political motivations are accelerating Canadian negotiations. The next round of negotiations is scheduled to be in Peru in mid-November. There is widespread concern that the government will rapidly conclude negotiations without any real input or consultation. Moreover, KAIROS is concerned that unless the human rights crisis is addressed, free trade will only serve to further stark inequalities without addressing the root causes of the conflict.

Now is not the time to close a free trade deal with Colombia. Rather, it is the time for Harper to demonstrate his government’s commitment to human rights in Colombia.. Until the human rights crisis in Colombia is resolved, free trade and foreign investment will only accentuate the crisis and further cement the acutely disparate and unequal society.

Take Action Today!

Write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper today! Demand that his government stop negotiating free trade with Colombia.

Insist that the widespread impunity, assassinations, human rights violations and structural inequalities be addressed. Tell him to put human rights first by carrying out a full human rights impact assessment before going forward.

Demand full parliamentary and public debate and urge the government to adopt a new approach to trade that improves and does not worsen the condition of those affected by violence and conflict and living in poverty including indigenous, Afro-Colombians, women and internally displaced persons. Send your letters to pm@pm.gc.ca

**At this time the Canada-Central America Four Free Trade Agreement remains on the government’s shelf, as negotiators were unable to reach agreement on outstanding issues surrounding key sectors.

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