C-23 Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement
September 29, 2009
I am honoured to have this opportunity to take part in this important debate on Bill C-23, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
I am going to begin my remarks with a quote from Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States. I would ask that members of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois pay close attention.
President Wilson said:
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.
We are here to discuss a free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, and during the course of this discussion some pretty extreme statements have been made. There have also been some misleading statements made by those who oppose this agreement. To those who have issued these statements, may I say that they are forgetting the errand. We are on an errand through this free trade agreement to enhance not only Canada's prosperity but that of the Colombian people. There is no better weapon in the war on crime than prosperity. When people prosper, they do not jeopardize that prosperity by committing crime.
I may be new to this chamber but I am not new to the world of crime and justice. Before coming to this place I practised law in Kitchener for over 30 years, both in defence and prosecution criminal work. During my legal career I represented people who committed crimes. What I learned is that crime is often fed by fear and by desperation. Empowering people, enriching people gives them more choices, not fewer choices, and that is sometimes the best answer to crime. It is the best answer for Colombians.
In the year that I have been a member of Parliament, sadly I have been approached by many Canadians whose loved ones face death and imprisonment from oppressive regimes all around the world. My heart has gone out to them. I have advocated trade sanctions against some of those regimes. But trade sanctions take a toll on ordinary people, not just the oppressive regime. For that reason, economic sanctions should be a last resort. There is no reason to restrict trade when a regime is actually trying to improve the rule of law. That would simply cut off those efforts at the knees and punish ordinary Colombians.
Colombians have been through some pretty tumultuous times in the past, but let us look at what has happened since President Uribe came to power. Between 2002 and 2008, kidnappings decreased by 87%. Homicide rates have dropped 44%. Moderate poverty has fallen from 55% to 45%. Currently, some form of the health system covers 90.4% of the population. Universal health coverage is expected by 2010. These are all signs of a regime which is really making an effort.
According to other reports, Colombia experienced accelerating economic growth between 2002 and 2007. Expansion was above 7% in 2007, chiefly due to advancements in domestic security, rising commodity prices and President Uribe's pro-market economic policies. Colombia's sustained growth has helped reduce overall poverty by 20%. It has cut unemployment by 25% since 2002.
Now, we may observe that Colombia's economic growth slipped in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis and weakening demand for its exports. In response, President Uribe's administration has cut capital controls. It has arranged for emergency credit lines for multilateral institutions. It has promoted investment incentives, such as Colombia's modernized free trade zone. The Colombian government has also encouraged exporters to diversify their customer base from limited markets in the United States and Venezuela, Colombia's largest trading partners.
Colombians are making progress. The Colombian government is making progress. The Colombian people are making progress. Our free trade agreement will certainly promote their prosperity. The agreement contains some very strict guidelines on how that prosperity will be attained. These include the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of discrimination, providing protections for occupational safety and health, and basic employment standards such as minimum wages and overtime pay.
I must also point out that Colombia is not the only free trade partner that our government has pursued. We are fortunate to have a Prime Minister who believes that the route to our prosperity is through good relations with our trading partners and agreements that have our exports in high demand all around. We are pursuing an aggressive trade agenda in the Americas, Europe, India and the Middle East, just to name a few. We will no doubt have a similar debate when some of those agreements are signed. My response will again be: Do not forget the errand. One cannot influence without dialogue, and without influence, one cannot advocate for change.
Since taking office four years ago, our government has opened many doors for Canadian businesses by signing new agreements with eight countries. We have also initiated discussions with the European Union and India, two of the world's largest economic groups.
During challenging economic times, we cannot close the doors and bar the windows. Protectionism does not work. To weather the challenges, we must throw open the doors and welcome new trading partners. We must keep the manufacturing sector, like mine in Kitchener, producing and in turn, our economy flowing. These agreements help expand trade, open doors for Canadian exporters, encourage economic growth and create jobs around the world. They build a better, friendlier world.
I am particularly proud of our government's efforts at trade diversification because I have long observed the mischief created by our heavy reliance on exports to our great friend and neighbour to the south.
I began my remarks with a quotation and I will end them with another quotation, which I am sure my NDP colleagues at least will recognize:
Courage, my friends, 'tis not too late to build a better world.
Even today, Tommy Douglas is right. It is never too late to build a better world. I encourage--no, I implore--everyone in the House to vote in favour of this bill. Give the people of Colombia this chance to build a better relationship between the people of Canada and the people of Colombia.