Canada concludes Colombia free trade talks

Sat Jun 7, 2008 8:24pm EDT
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By Frank McGurty

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada said on Saturday it had wrapped up free trade negotiations with Colombia and reached agreement on related labor and environmental issues, but the deal could raise criticism from opposition lawmakers concerned about the Andean country's human rights record.

Once implemented, the trade pact would improve access for farm and industrial goods and services trade between Canada and Colombia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said in a news release posted on its Web site.

The deal would also provide for more secure investments, it said. Talks on the agreement began in July 2007.

The agreements "will help solidify ongoing efforts by the government of Colombia to create a more prosperous, equitable and secure democracy," Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson said.

In Washington, a free trade agreement with Colombia negotiated by the Bush administration has bogged down in the House of Representatives, where Democrats have delayed a vote on the package. The AFL-CIO labor organization is fighting the pact because it believes Colombia has not done enough to stop murders of trade unionists and bring their killers to justice.

Canada's Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has shrugged off similar concerns at home, arguing it can have a positive influence on countries like Colombia by engaging them through trade and investment pacts.

Still, at the request of opposition parties, a parliamentary committee was set up to study the environmental and human rights concerns surrounding the talks with Bogota.

The agreements face legal and parliamentary reviews in both countries. After the review period, draft legislation will be submitted for approval by lawmakers.   Continued...