Canadian opposition lawmaker Scott Brison, whose proposal to include human rights reviews in a free trade accord with Colombia may win its passage, said the idea could jumpstart a similar agreement stalled in the U.S. Congress.
Critics of trade with Colombia say President Alvaro Uribe must improve the South American country’s human rights record, alleging a history of unpunished violence against union organizers. The agreement, which Brison “hopes” can clear Canada’s Parliament by July, includes an annual report on human rights in Colombia and Canada.
“It is a bit of a game-changer -- I think it’s going to be part of free trade agreements in the future to help fortify human rights engagement,” Brison, the Liberal Party’s spokesman for international trade, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Ottawa bureau today.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservatives signed the agreement with Colombia in 2008, and it has been delayed in Parliament because the government lacks a majority of seats and needs some opposition support to pass laws.
Brison’s proposed amendment to the bill may assuage concerns by some of his fellow Liberals. The other two opposition parties -- the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois -- have been opposed to the agreement.
The U.S. trade agreement now stalled in Congress could be advanced because human rights groups “may see a way forward with a stronger reporting mechanism,” said Brison, 42.
“We wouldn’t be talking about Colombia and human rights in the House of Commons or committee now if there weren’t a free trade agreement on the table, so that validates the principle that human rights engagement is strengthened by economic engagement,” he said.
It’s unclear how soon the agreement will be passed, even if the two parties supporting it have enough seats in Parliament, Brison said, citing a “tight” Parliamentary timeline.
Colombian Trade Minister Luis Guillermo Plata visited Ottawa last month to court senior lawmakers from the Liberal Party to cement their support.
In 2008, two-way trade between Canada and Colombia was more than C$1.3 billion ($1.3 billion), according to Canada’s trade department. About 80 percent of Colombian exports are already duty-free, according to figures provided by the trade department, and include goods such as coal, coffee, banana, cut flowers and sugars. Colombia imports wheat and other cereals, newsprint, off-road trucks and machinery and electrical equipment from Canada.
In an April 27 interview, Plata said Canadian exporters may gain as U.S. lawmakers delay approval of a free trade agreement with the Andean country.