Interview | 5/22/2009 12:00:00 AM
"Colombia is very important to us"
The free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada, which is waiting for its ratification, has been a subject that has been widely debated in both countries and has received both praise and criticism. Bearing in mind this background, SEMANA INTERNATIONAL spoke to the recently appointed Canadian Ambassador to Colombia, Geneviève des Rivières, about this controversial topic and the general political relations between both countries.
She has focused her work on economic and commercial topics, so she is aware that the pending FTA with Colombia is her priority. She explained to SEMANA INTERNATIONAL why this is interesting news for both countries, why Canada and Colombia are good commercial partners and how Canada is involved in helping Colombia to improve its human rights record, a problem which has been seen as a burden for the final approval of the FTA.
Watch the interview by clicking on each question on the left. For more information, read the following text about the FTA, written by SEMANA INTERNATIONAL in December 2008, days after Canada and Colombia signed the agreement. It includes an interview with Luis Guillermo Plata, Colombia's Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism.
Click here if you want to find out the fast facts about Canada and Colombia's FTA.
The deal with Canada
The first piece of news came during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, held in Lima on 22nd and 23rd November. Colombia is not officially a member of Apec, but both president Alvaro Uribe and part of his cabinet were in the Peruvian capital to meet Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister, and Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade. The main goal was to sign the FTA and environment and labour cooperation agreements.
At first sight, the situation seems positive for Colombia. Securing a deal with a country like Canada, which plays a big role internationally as a member of the exclusive G-8 group, will always be important. In Bogotá, both the National Association of Colombian Industrialists (Andi, in Spanish) and the Colombian Society of Farmers (SAC) expressed their satisfaction after the signing of the agreement, which should strengthen the 1.1 billion dollar two-way merchandise trade the two countries completed in 2007.
Nevertheless, there is still a difficult path ahead, and the FTA could eventually face problems during the respective ratification processes. In Canada, for instance, Harper has a minority government and faces strong opposition in Parliament. In June this year, the Standing Committee on International Trade, a group of congressmen from all parties, recommended maintaining close ties to Colombia but not signing a FTA until it improves in terms of “displacement, labour law and accountability for crime, and until the Colombian government shows a more constructive attitude to human rights groups in the country”.
Trade union movements both in Canada and in Colombia have also fiercely stated their opposition to the deal. SEMANA INTERNATIONAL spoke to Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Cupe), which works closely with left-wing Colombian politicians and trade union groups. Mr. Moist travelled to Colombia to check whether the FTA would be a good decision, and expressed his concerns about how it can improve people’s lives in Colombia. “We have no problem with trade with Colombia per se, but if the tide is not rising to lift all the boats and we don’t see it, then there is a problem”, he commented.
For now, both Colombia and Canada have greeted the signing of the FTA. Canada has even admitted that it will try to help the South American country improve its human rights record. But that is not enough. The FTA must now be checked in detail, to decide whether it stays as just a couple of signatures on a piece of paper or if it proves to be a treaty which really benefits both countries.
Interview with Minister Plata (December 2008)
Minister, we have been hearing a lot about the FTA with Canada, but why is it so important?
It is the first agreement we have had with a North American country. Canada is the largest importer per capita in the world and this FTA sends a clear message that Colombia is moving forward to internationalize its economy, that Colombia is negotiating free trade agreements with different countries and not just with the US.
Many analysts argue that this FTA is unbalanced and that Canada could benefit more than Colombia from the deal. Do you agree?
There are always two ways of looking at a trade agreement. One is a static model, in which you sell a bit more and nothing more happens. But I think what is really important in a trade agreement, particularly one with a more developed nation, is the new incentives that will be created through the FTA, because they bring stability, because they bring an open market.
In the end, free trade agreements are also about investment, developing new sectors and new products. I foresee that maybe in the very beginning Canada will get some advantages from the trade agreement, but in the end what is important is that we see more investments from Canada and other countries in Colombia.
Do you think the FTA could face some trouble during the ratification process in Colombia?
The plan is that we will present this to our Congress next year and I don’t foresee a difficulty. We obviously have to go through the debates, but I think in the end it will be approved.
And in Canada? We must not forget that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a minority government, faces strong opposition in Parliament and is currently having a political crisis.
In the case of Canada the ratification process is a bit different from Colombia, because it has a Parliament. The agreement doesn’t have to be ratified by Parliament, it is done by the Cabinet itself. But, of course, having a minority government and opposition doesn’t make things easier. Nonetheless, when we met with Prime Minister Harper and Minister (of International Trade) Stockwell Day, they both seemed positive and optimistic about the approval of the FTA.