In the prelude to last week’s APEC summit in Lima, the leaders of Canada and Colombia met in the Peruvian capital to sign a free trade agreement. “In a time of global economic instability free trade is more important than ever,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said. “By expanding our trading relationship with Colombia, we are not only opening up new opportunities for Canadian businesses in a foreign market, we are also helping one of South America’s most historic democracies improve the human rights and security situation in their country.”
The deal will remove tariffs on 98% of Canadian exports to Colombia, either immediately or over ten years. Canada will have between three and seven years to eliminate its duties on Colombian goods. Although side agreements on labor and environmental standards commit the Colombian government to respect workers’ rights, eliminate child labor, and allow collective bargaining, some activists remain skeptical. “I cannot understand why the Prime Minister…is prepared to sign agreements with a country that sees trade unionists murdered at a rate more than the entire world experiences in total,” said Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Bilateral trade between the countries came to US$1.14 billion in 2007. Canada sends wheat, heavy equipment and engineering services to Colombia, while the South American country’s main exports to Canada are coffee, bananas, coal, oil and sugar. Canadian direct investment in Colombia is mostly in the oil and mining sectors. (ICTSD, Nov. 26)
The US-Colombia FTA has yet to be ratified by the US Congress.