Community Caravan & Rally Against The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) Oct 10

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Disaster in the Making:

Canada Concludes Its Free Trade Agreement With Colombia

Todd Gordon

What's the monetary value of a Colombian trade unionist's life? As it turns out, it depends on how many are killed in a given year since the potential fines the Colombian government will have to pay as penalty under its free trade agreement (FTA) with Canada whenever a union activist is killed is capped at $15 million. If this sounds like a sick joke I apologize, but this is in effect what the Canadian government actually negotiated.

On June 7th, Canada proudly proclaimed that it had successfully concluded its trade deal with the human rights-troubled Andean country. Negotiated with an efficiency that must make the Bush administration -- whose own trade agreement with Colombia has stalled because of Congressional opposition -- jealous, the deal was concluded less than a year after negotiations began.

With four Canadian cabinet ministers visiting Colombian president Alvaro Uribe and other members of his cabinet between July 2007 and February 2008, it's clear the Harper Tories had made the trade deal a major priority despite Colombia's appalling human rights record (see, for example, my article on Canada and Colombia <> ). As new Foreign Affairs minister (and ex-Liberal), David Emerson, declared, 'The Government of Canada is delivering on its commitment to open up opportunities for Canadian business in the Americas and around the world.'

The agreement, which still hasn't been made public, will now undergo a legal review by Canadian and Colombian lawyers. After the review is completed, it'll be brought to the House of Commons for ratification, which should not be a problem for the Tories despite their minority government since the Liberals have said they'll support it if it contains language on human rights. It does -- but I'll come back to that in a moment.

Let the Canadian Capitalist Onslaught Begin:

Like the trade deals before it (NAFTA, Israel, Chile, Costa Rica and most recently Peru), the Canada-Colombia FTA will significantly reduce tariffs on exports between the participating countries across a whole range of industries. But like the trade deals before it, it perhaps more importantly opens another country up to Canadian investment. As a press release from Foreign Affairs states, 'Once implemented, the agreement will lock in market access for Canadian investors and provide them with greater stability, transparency and protection for their investments.'

Since NAFTA, Canadian-negotiated free trade deals have included chapters that provide extremely strong corporate investment rights (the infamous chapter 11 in NAFTA). That's the 'stability, transparency and protection' Foreign Affairs is talking about. Canadian multinationals will now be given privileged access to the Colombian market and its resources, backed up by the right to sue Colombian governments if they feel their rights under the trade agreement haven't been fulfilled -- as might be the case, for instance, if local community opposition halts a mining project. Canadian companies have in fact been actively litigious under the other trade agreements; they are more likely to sue foreign governments than their foreign counterparts are to sue Canadian governments.

Add to the new FTA the aggressive neoliberal restructuring Colombia has already undergone in the last several years, including the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-funded rewriting of its mining code (which allows corporations access to indigenous land) and the ridiculously low royalty rate imposed on foreign investors (as low as 5% in the oil sector and 0.4% in mining), and Canadian corporations could have a field day. Colombia is rich in petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, nickel, gold, copper, emeralds, and hydropower -- and Canada has the largest mining industry in the world, and not insignificant oil and hydropower sectors.

The Colombian FTA is part of Canada's so-called Global Commerce Strategy, a significant part of which is increasing Canada's economic influence in the Americas. According to the Foreign Affairs press release announcing the conclusion of the trade negotiations, 'The Strategy includes an aggressive trade negotiation agenda that aims to secure competitive terms of access in markets that offer significant potential for our products and expertise.' This strategy has clearly been a success in Colombia.

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