Unions, civil society force Harper retreat on Colombia free trade

Tuesday 9 June 2009, by Canadian Labor Congress

Pressure applied by the Canadian labour movement and civil society organizations has forced the Harper government to remove Colombia free trade legislation from the legislative agenda - at least for now.

Pressure applied by the Canadian labour movement and civil society organizations has forced the Harper government to remove Colombia free trade legislation from the legislative agenda - at least for now.

"We haven’t won the final battle against this deal yet but the government has blinked," says Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti. "We don’t want our government to approve a free trade agreement with a country where more labour leaders are killed than in the rest of the world combined."

The Harper government signed the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA) in November 2008 and introduced legislation in March to implement the deal. Labour groups and others mounted a strong lobbying and public advocacy campaign against the deal based on Colombia’s dismal human rights record. The lobbying effort was focused on opposition politicians. NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs were on side but the 77-member Liberal caucus is divided and the labour lobby worked hard to win over Liberal MPs. The message was that Prime Minister Harper is wrong when he says that the deal will have a positive effect on Colombia’s human rights record.

Georgetti says, "Human rights violations against workers in Colombia keep wages miserably low and make the country attractive for foreign investment, especially for Canadian resource extraction companies. Under conditions like these, working families in Colombia will never benefit from the economic activity that might have been generated by trade."

The United Nations calls the situation of displaced people in Colombia the worst human rights crisis in the Americas and second only to Darfur in the world. "Canadians are dismayed that our government wants to do business with a regime in such as this," Georgetti says. "We’re going to keep up the pressure on against this legislation for as long as it takes."

With similar deals frozen in the US Congress and the Norwegian Parliament, Canada has become Colombia’s primary trade target. President Uribe will be in Canada on June 10-12 and the CLC will be protesting the red carpet welcome to the leader of a regime implicated with the murder of trade union leaders.

Sources: Canadian Labour Congress

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