Speedy Passage Urged For Colombia Trade Deal

Farm groups are turning their attention to the Senate in hopes of getting legislation approving a free trade deal with Colombia passed.

The bill languished in the Commons for months as the NDP and Bloc Quebecois tried to stop its passage over concerns about attacks on trade unionists and reformers in the South American country. The Canadian Wheat Board, Grain Growers of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture were among those supporting passage of the bill.

It finally got third reading June 14 and moved on to the Senate. The farm groups are asking the senators to pass it before they begin their summer recess later this month.

In a letter sent to the senators, Doug Robertson, president of Grain Growers, said speedy approval of the deal is important for Canadian farmers. “Colombia is Canada’s seventh-largest market for pulses and special crops, with annual exports from Canada averaging over $53 million and 111,000 tonnes.

“Colombia has a more temperate climate and their farmers can gain through exporting crops like coffee and tropical fruits that we do not produce in Canada,” he added. “This is an agreement that benefits farmers in both countries.”

The Colombia trade legislation attracted more scrutiny “than either of the last two federal budgets,” he noted. “While there have been concerns over human rights, there was a well-thought-out amendment proposed by Liberal MP Scott Brison and accepted by MPs to require both the governments of Canada and Colombia to produce annual reports on human rights in the country as a basis for continuing the agreement.”

The bill’s critics “are rigidly and ideologically opposed to all trade deals, and it is now time to move on,” he added.

The government had to use time allocation to move the bill through the approval stages.

Colombia’s president has come to Ottawa to encourage passage of the bill to help his strike-torn country achieve normalcy.

Canada also has FTAs with the European Free Trade Association, consisting of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Peru, Panama, Israel and Costa Rica as well as with its NAFTA partners. It is also involved in discussions with at least 10 other partners including the European Union, China, India, Morocco as well as organizations representing small South American countries and Caribbean nations.

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