Scott Brison Op-Ed in the National Post:
After decades of narcoconflict a new Colombia is emerging from the shadows. The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), fortified by a human rights Treaty proposed by the Liberal party, represents more than simply the opportunity for economic gain. Canada and Colombia now can embark on an important social partnership that goes far beyond dollars and cents.
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe made huge progress in returning his country from narco-terrorists back to the Colombian people. His successor, Juan Manuel Santos, has said that the government will not let its guard down “until the last centimetre of the country is safe.”
In his August inaugural address President Santos made it clear that he intends on furthering the security and economic gains made under president Uribe, and will place a strong focus on social progress. Prior to being sworn in, Mr. Santos held a symbolic inauguration ceremony with indigenous people, the first time a Colombian president was blessed in an indigenous ritual in what was seen as an important act of national unity.
Colombia, like Canada, has struggled to ensure that the prosperity created with its land was re-invested and shared equitably with its founding peoples. A generation ago many of Canada’s indigenous peoples deeply opposed the activities of Canada’s extractive sector. However, by working in consultation with our aboriginal communities Canada’s extractive sector has developed corporate social responsibility (CSR) best practices to help make mining profitable for all.
Labour rights and security for labour leaders in Colombia has improved dramatically in recent years, and those with lingering concerns were comforted by the appointment of Angelino Garzon — who spent his life as a labour leader and labour rights activist–as vice-president. In a meeting with a number of union leaders, Mr. Garzon confirmed that he will be playing a leadership role in the implementation of the human rights reportage mechanism and wants to lead a delegation to Canada to meet both labour and indigenous leaders. He showed a clear commitment to economic growth and social progress, as well as to human rights and respect for indigenous peoples.
The reintegration of former combatants back into productive society is also essential to Colombia’s progress. In a roundtable with Canadian companies, I expressed the importance of their taking a more central role in the reintegration process by actively seeking out opportunities to hire former combatants. Good CSR is good for business as hiring these combatants will prevent their return to violence and help maintain Colombia’s path to stability.
During a visit to a reintegration program in a community comprised of demobilized combatants living among those they only recently saw as enemies, I saw a group of citizens who have replaced fear, resentment, shame and hate with mutual respect and forgiveness. Among their heartwarming stories, one from a former fighter, who lost his leg in the narco-war, stood out. He said, “Please buy our products so we can have legitimate jobs.”
Trade creates jobs. Legitimate jobs create stability. Just as demand for Canadian newsprint in Colombia creates jobs in Quebec and Nova Scotia, our demand for Colombian fresh flowers and textiles creates jobs in Colombia. And Canadian extractive, oil and gas, and infrastructure companies can create further opportunities that Colombians need. More trade and more investment simply means more jobs for young Colombians.
The Canada-Colombia human rights treaty commits both governments to report the impacts of the FTA on human rights in both countries and to table these reports to both Colombia’s Congress and Canada’s Parliament. I was heartened on my recent visit by the strong commitment from the Colombian government and civil society,
and from Canadian companies to this progressive new vehicle.
Colombia’s new Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism told me that Colombia sees the human rights treaty “as an opportunity, not simply an obligation.” Human rights leaders including Christian Salazar, the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, shared this enthusiasm for the potential represented by this groundbreaking treaty.
The Colombian government is committed to winning the battle against poverty and violence. With the new FTA between Colombia and Canada, and with the human rights treaty proposed by the Liberal Party of Canada, we have secured a partnership role which goes beyond simply dollars and cents.
-Scott Brison is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants (Nova Scotia). He is the Liberal critic for finance and chairman of the Leader’s Advisory Committee on Economic Strategy.