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Monday, January 28, 2008

Peter Shepherd 's leter to Canadian Minister of Trade

The Honourable David L. Emerson,
Minister of International Trade and
Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A2
Dear Mr Emerson,
Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter of January 1 concerning the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Colombia.
May I request that this matter be pursued in depth and detail with Canadian and Colombian counterparts who have been carefully researching and documenting these issues? Such organizations include: the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Common Frontiers Canada, as well as the RECALCA network in Colombia. All are very serious organizations with abundant data and direct information on the impact and implications of the FTA. I am copying this message to them, and have requested that representatives from these institutions respond to your letter.
In your reply you say that:
Building stronger, more sustainable economies in the Americas through trade and investment linkages will foster economic development and prosperity, which will expand opportunities for citizens. Experience tells us that creating wealth and opportunities is a precursor to stronger social institutions and respect for rule of law. This is what we want to help promote in Colombia - a healthier economy, poverty reduction and employment opportunities.

There is no evidence that FTAs, as negotiated and signed at the moment, help to build stronger and more sustainable economies. In fact, there is abundant evidence to the contrary available from the above-mentioned groups.
According to Colombia’s RECALCA network, Colombian farmers are greatly threatened by US farm subsidies that dwarf and knock out internal protections. While the US negotiates under the legislated “Trade Promotion Authority of 2002”, the Colombians failed to pass a proposed “Mirror Reflection Law” to the U.S.’s TPA to ensure food security, transparency and reciprocity during the negotiations. And during US/Colombian trade negotiations, civil society groups were kept in a ‘side room’, and had to sign confidentiality agreements about any information given to them during the negotiations.  (1)
Furthermore according to RECALCA: “Colombia does not have any norms that oblige the government to comply with conditions and minimum guarantees in its trade negotiations….From the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, to the Free Trade Agreement with Peru and Colombia, the topic of labor rights has undergone significant changes. In the first place, there appears only one document, and this as an appendix. In 2001 Mexico presented 28 complaints for violations of labor rights which resulted in not a single sanction for the responsible companies.” (2)
The FTAs make good business sense for a few very strong trans-national corporate groups and their national counterparts at the expense of the environment, living conditions, wages and basic rights and freedoms for most people in the countries affected by these agreements. This is particularly the case of Colombia where in order to guarantee profit for corporate interests, virtual impunity is given to corporations and governments. The agreements end up resulting in systematic human rights abuses; lax environmental legislation and a dismantling of labour and human rights.
To quote Gauri Sreenivasan, of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation:  

“Violence and war have a long history in Colombia. They remain a constant reality today. Illegal executions of civilians by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces took 955 lives in the past five years. 98% of the more than 550 murders of trade unionists under the current Uribe government remain unsolved. In the last two decades, more than 3.5 million people have been displaced and 70,000 people have died in an internal conflict rooted in inequality. It’s a vicious conflict over control of the land, resources and narcotics that generate wealth for a few at the cost of so many.

Who pays the price? Mainly indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, small scale miners and farmers who live on land that could make other people richer. Like Kimy Pernia, a Colombian indigenous leader who came to Canada in 1999 to ask the Export Development Corporation to stop financing a mega-dam project that was destroying the land of the Embera people. In 2001, Kimy was abducted and later killed for speaking up for the rights of his people. There are the workers and trade unionists who ask for job security or safe working conditions in businesses turning healthy profits. Twenty-six Colombian trade unionists have been assassinated this year alone.” [November 2007] (3)

And according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, the human rights situation has worsened in the past two decades. In 1988 there was an average of 10 politically motivated killings per day. By the year 2003, it was close to 20 a day. (Amnesty International, 4)

Could you provide evidence in support of your Government's statement on FTA’s? If, as experience and evidence illustrates, FTAs do not build stronger economies nor bring more opportunities for most people, then the premise upon which the negotiations are taking place would not hold, and the agreements should not be pursued. It is hard to believe that our government is not aware of the repressive legislative and economic initiatives implemented in Colombia in order to create advantageous conditions for corporate interests at the expense of ordinary Colombians. Both the World Bank and Amnesty International have reported that 3.5 Columbians million have been internally displaced, 60% of these from resource-rich territories in order for mega projects to be implemented. The UN calls this the worst humanitarian disaster in the Western Hemisphere and it is growing. How can facts like these be ignored and replaced by a statement such as the one made in your letter? Should Canada allow Canadian business involvement in territories and countries where human rights abuses and terror linked to Governments are used systematically to create advantageous conditions for these corporate interests?
If this Free Trade Agreement is so good, why is it being carried out in a confidential manner, out of sight of public scrutiny and debate? Can you provide a draft of the agreement to interested civil society groups during the process, not merely after it has been fully formulated in tandem with unenforceable “cooperative” side agreements on labour and the environment?
I invite you and your Government to have open debates and discussions with those in Canada (not only corporations) who have direct and reliable knowledge of the situation in Colombia prior to making statements such as those made, and even worse, pursuing an agreement that will, as many have warned, promote further poverty, exploitation, exclusion and terror.
Yours truly,
Peter Shepherd

Toronto, Ontario,

1) http://www.recalca.org.co/aningles.htm
“Civil Society Kept out of FTA Negotiations”

2) http://www.recalca.org.co/aningles.htm
Free Trade Agreement & Labor Rights: Labor provisions do not guarantee protection for workers”

3) http://www.ccic.ca/e/docs/004_commentary_2007-11_colombia.pdf  “
Colombia: a test case for Canada’s ‘principled’ role in the Americas”, Gauri Sreenivasan, Canadian Council for International Co-operation
4)  http://www.amnestyusa.org/Colombia/More_on_Colombia/page.do?id=1011310&n1=3&n2=30&n3=885 <http://www.amnestyusa.org/Colombia/More_on_Colombia/page.do?id=1011310&amp;n1=3&amp;n2=30&amp;n3=885> : “More Information on Colombia”
See also http://canadianlabour.ca/index.php/colombia_projects/1277 , contact Sheila Katz
,   contact Rick Arnold
http://www.ccic.ca/e/home/index.shtml , contact Gauri Sreenivasan, Canadian Council for International Co-operation
http://www.recalca.org.co/aningles.htm , contact recalca@etb.net.co , RECALCA: Colombian Action Network in Response to Free Trade and FTAA.

cc. The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Sheila Katz, Canadian Labour Congress, Rick Arnold, Common Frontiers Canada, Gauri Sreenivasan, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, The Honourable Bev Oda, The Honourable Maxime Bermier, Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, the Honourable Jack Layton, The Honourable Alexa Mcdonough, Honourable Domenic Leblanc, The Honourable Mario Silva, The Honourable Julian Peter, The Honourable Paul Dewar, The Honourable Caroline St-Hilaire, The Honourable Serge Cardin, CBC “As-It-Happens”, CBC “The Current”




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