Debating the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreements
In 2008, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Colombia totalled more than $1.3 billion. Canadian merchandise exports to Colombia totalled $703.8 million in 2008; major exports include agricultural goods such as wheat, barley, and lentils, as well industrial products, paper products, and heavy machinery. Canadian merchandise imports from Colombia totalled $643.7 million in 2008. Major imports consist of coffee, bananas, coal, oil, sugar, and flowers. For details, click here.
On March 26, 2009, the minority government headed by the Conservatives introduced legislation to implement the Canada-Colombia Free Trade, Labour Cooperation and Environment Agreements (CCFTA) in the House of Commons. According to Canadian law, once this legislation is passed and it receives Royal Assent from the Queen’s Representative, the Governor General, the Government of Canada will be in a position to implement these Agreements at an agreed upon date with the Government of Colombia.
Upon my return from Colombia, I wrote my Member of Parliament, David Sweet. In response, he wrote, in part,
“I take careful note of your concern with regard to poverty and human rights, and I recognize that the interrelationship between these issues and trade is an important one. 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 an important element in building stronger social institutions and respect for rule of law.
”We recognize the progress that Colombia, in particular, is making in its efforts to strengthen its economy and society. We believe that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way to support positive change. Developing new market opportunities and respecting for human rights are complementary activities where Canada's influence can make a difference. The expansion of human rights in Colombia is a gradual process and Canada is committed to creating the conditions necessary for progress — the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is a key part of that process. Colombia will make no progress if we isolate that country—”
In the face of arguments justifying the policy (engagement not isolation, economic development leads to prosperity and so on) pressure mounts against passage in many quarters; one website quotes Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz (in The National Interest, May/June 2008):
"Standard economic theory does not say that everyone will be better-off as a result of trade liberalization, only that the winners could compensate the losers. They could take a portion of their gains, give it to the losers and everyone could be better-off. But, of course, the winners, which in much of America are the very well-off, haven't compensated the losers; indeed, some have been arguing that to compete in the new world of globalization requires cutbacks in government spending, including programs for the poor. The losers then lose doubly.”
For now, the government has withdrawn CCFTA. It has not been defeated, and its proponents (the Conservatives and some of the Liberals) await an opportunity to bring it back. Grassroots mobilization is increasing against passage. We shall see, especially as the government is being maintained in power by minority parties that oppose CCFTA.