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Each day TFO Canada publishes a sample of trade news on the Canadian import market along with any new, updated or changed regulations and legislations regarding international trade; countries in which TFO Canada offers services and on the export sectors which it promotes.


Opposition Opens Up Central American Trade Deal

Wednesday, November 01, 2006 > 09:45:30

(Embassy – Newspaper Online via I.E News Bulletin)

The NDP trade critic calls for public disclosure of a trade agreement with four central American countries, but the committee chair says the resolution prejudges the witnesses.
In an effort to ensure that the protection of labour and human rights are built into a free trade agreement being negotiated with four Central American countries, the Standing Committee on International Trade passed a resolution last week calling for the disclosure of all agreement draft texts and Canadian negotiating proposals.
The resolution also called for public consultations and debate and further study on the potential impacts of a Canadian-Central American free trade agreement, especially in terms of human rights. The committee will also report back to the House on the negotiations.
"We need to have a real public consultation on this and disclosure of the text to see what we are putting on the table," said NDP international trade critic Peter Julian, who tabled the resolution and was supported by the committee's opposition MPs.
"It is not only what are we giving away, but it is also what impact will the agreement have on labour rights in these countries," he added. "It's a real question whether Canadian values are included in this agreement."
A delegation from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua was in Ottawa from Oct. 12-13, and International Trade spokeswoman Valerie Noftle described the talks as "well-advanced."
"Canadian and CA4 officials have been seeking to address the few remaining obstacles and, to this end, have met three times since May 2006," she said. "While a date for the next meeting has not yet been set, Canadian and CA4 officials have agreed to continue to explore ways to overcome the remaining obstacles."
Ms. Noftle said the government, prior to launching Canada-Chile and Canada-Israel negotiations, "undertook comprehensive consultations" with the public and industry in a variety of ways, but critics say consultations are limited and do not match true public debate.
As for Mr. Julian's resolution, Ms. Noftle said: "The House of Commons' legal branch is reviewing the motion to determine whether it can be referred to the House of Commons for debate."

NDP Motion 'Irresponsible'

Canadian and Central American human rights groups and labour organizations have alleged Canada and the four-country bloc are negotiating within a veil of secrecy and had been pushing for public disclosure of the draft agreements.

"What's been appalling is we've seen no change in how the Conservatives are approaching these negotiations," Mr. Julian said, adding the recent softwood lumber deal and controversy over South Korean free trade agreement negotiations "begs the question of what else is being given away."

But committee chairman Leon Benoit described the motion as "irresponsible."

"You don't disclose information upon which negotiations are based," said the Conservative MP. "It's a ridiculous concept."

The resolution was tabled after two labour lawyers with the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers testified before the committee, the second day of hearings committee members have heard on the subject.

During the previous day of testimony, in June, civil society group and private sector representatives outlined their positions on the agreement. Mr. Benoit said given the fact that the committee has yet to hear from government staff and other industries, the resolution jumped the gun by "prejudging" what would be said by future witnesses.

In addition, Mr. Benoit said the motion is worded in such a way that it requires the committee itself to disclose the information, which it doesn't have, and which he says the government couldn't do anyways without permission from the other four countries.

"Even if the government wanted to give it out, it would need the approval of the other countries," he said, adding the wording of the resolution will be addressed during an in camera committee meeting this week.

The labour lawyers who testified said there are flaws in the North American Free Trade Agreement's labour rights protection sections, and those flaws have more or less been repeated in subsequent agreements, including the Canada-Chile and Canada-Costa Rica agreements.

"Our position is very simple," Mark Rowlinson of the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers testified Tuesday. "If you're going to include labour rights in a trade agreement then do it seriously. Take the job seriously and correct the mistakes that have been made in previous agreements.

"There continues to be real problems with respect to the actual enforcement of labour rights in many Central and South American countries," he added. "That's not to say that there aren't often good labour laws on the books in Central America or South America--and we're talking here about Central America–but the problem frequently is enforcement."

Officials at the embassies of Guatemala and El Salvador did not respond to inquiries while officials at the Nicaraguan and Honduran embassies could not be reached for comment.
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