Canada-Colombia human rights report exercise in futility

Common Frontiers, May 22, 2014 (Toronto, ON)

The Canadian government’s third human rights report on its controversial free trade agreement with Colombia, tabled May 16, reads like a marketing brochure for neoliberal economics. 

Once again, the annual human rights impact assessment (HRIA) on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA) does little to meet its obligation to analyse the effects of Canadian investment on human rights in Colombia. Instead, the report extols the virtues of pro-market, tariff-reducing free trade policies, with a window dressing of corporate social responsibility.

The CCOFTA came into force in 2011 with the goal of providing new market opportunities to Canadian corporations. (One such opportunity arose after the Canadian government eased its ban on exporting assault-style weapons to Colombia, one of the world’s most violent countries.) The agreement’s human rights component was an afterthought, included only after intense opposition from labour and social justice groups in Canada and Colombia. The solution, developed by then Liberal trade critic Scott Brison over a steak dinner with his Colombian counterpart, was to throw in a human rights assessment without any due diligence or prior baseline study as recommended by world experts.