Canada says close to trade deal with Colombia

Mon May 5, 2008 4:48pm EDT
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is "very close" to concluding free trade negotiations with Colombia, Trade Minister David Emerson said on Monday, calling those opposed to the deal on human rights grounds as simply "dogmatic."

Emerson also presented legislation to Parliament to enact a free trade pact with the European Free Trade Association, comprised of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EFTA accord, completed last June and signed in January, is the first substantial trade agreement signed by Ottawa in over a decade.

Emerson said several other bilateral negotiations were under way, of which those with Colombia were the most advanced.

"I would say that in the case of Colombia we're quite close, very close," Emerson told reporters.

But political approval could be a tougher task. At the request of the opposition parties critical of the deal, a parliamentary committee is now studying the environmental and human rights concerns surrounding the talks with Bogota.

A similar debate is raging in the United States, where the AFL-CIO labor organization is fighting a trade deal because it believes Colombia has not done enough to stop the assassination of trade unionists and to bring their killers to justice.

"There are people who, for dogmatic reasons candidly, do not want us to do a free trade deal with Colombia," Emerson said.

Withdrawing from the talks would punish not only the Colombian government, which he said was on the path to democratic and human rights reform, but ordinary Colombians who need jobs.

Emerson is also eager to get moving on a controversial trade pact with South Korea, which auto workers fiercely oppose.

(Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Rob Wilson)

<p>Canada's Trade Minister David Emerson speaks to journalists in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 5, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>