Colombia and Canada sign free-trade pact

November 23rd, 2008 - 2:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Lima, Nov 23 (IANS) Colombia and Canada have signed a free trade agreement (FTA) guaranteeing workers’ rights and environmental protection in the two countries, Spain’s EFE news agency reported Sunday.The FTA was announced Saturday in Peruvian capital Lima by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who presided over the signing of the accord on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit which gathered to discuss the global market meltdown.

Uribe hailed the agreement as an instrument to help in fighting “violation of human rights in Colombia inflicted by the illegal drug trade.”

“The human rights problem in Colombia has come from drug production. Treaties like this offer prosperity and alternatives,” said Uribe.

Uribe attended the summit as the only leader outside of the Asia-Pacific region to seek support for the Latin American country to join the grouping of the Pacific Rim economies in 2010 when Apec’s moratorium on admitting new members ends.

He said that the increase of Colombian exports to Canada that the trade deal will facilitate is “a step forward in confidence.”

“We can say that our workers have a new legal institution that protects their rights,” he said, adding that this sign of confidence “will help resolve the world economic crisis.”

Harper described the pact as “solid and unprecedented” because, he said, the articles that guarantee workers’ protection and care for the environment “open opportunities for exporters” while “backing Colombia’s efforts to build democracy.”

The Canadian minister said the accord “supports human rights in Colombia.”

The treaty will provide a preferential market for Colombian exporters, a framework of transparency and security of information and investments and will allow 97 percent of Colombian exports to Canada duty free.

Uribe recalled that Colombia has already signed free-trade deals with Mexico and three Central American countries, and hoped that the US Congress would ratify the trade agreement already signed with Washington.

The Democrat majority in the US Congress has indicated it will not consider approving the trade deal until Bogota makes a serious effort to crack down on drug lords and other criminals who have made Colombia the world’s most dangerous country for labour activists.

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