Notes on the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement

In 2007 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened negotiations for a free trade agreement with Colombia signalling shared values of “freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law”. Given that Colombia was the worst violator of human rights in the Americas at the time, many Canadian civil society groups including unions, human rights groups, churches and NGOs protested the decision, asking for a full, independent human rights impact assessment be implemented before the deal went ahead. 

After many months of hearings and protests, the government passed the CCoFTA in August after inserting a clause into the agreement requiring both the Canadian and Colombian governments to produce annual reports on the human rights impact of the deal. 

The first such report, presented in Parliament in May 2012 did not fulfill its mandate because the agreement had only been in effect for less than a year. This first report did, however, lay out a methodological framework for how the human rights impact was to be measured in the next report. 

Earlier this month, at the end of the day on Friday, June 14 2013, the second report on the human rights impact assessment of the CCoFTA was presented to a parliamentary clerk. The report does not follow the proposed methodology set out in the 2012 report. Rather, the report describes the economic results of the CCoFTA and concludes by saying that it is not possible to draw a link between the trade deal and human rights. The quick abandonment of the ideal that Canadian trade should not have a negative impact on human rights in another country nor benefit from existing human rights violations is deeply disappointing to Canadians who believe that respect for human rights must trump economic interest. 

As CoDev we will continue to work with Colombian partners to defend and promote human rights in that country and document and make known violations as they happen. 

For more analysis and opinion on the latest CCoFTA human rights report we encourage you to read this piece from Embassy Magazine (PDF) written by myself and Rachel Warden as well as a recent Globe and Mail piece.

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