Canada aims to push ahead with Colombia trade deal

Fri Feb 22, 2008 3:01pm EST
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By Louise Egan

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada plans to push ahead and negotiate a free trade deal with Colombia despite human rights concerns that have stalled a similar agreement between Bogota and Washington, signed over a year ago.

Trade Minister David Emerson said on Friday that Ottawa sought an agreement with "strong provisions on labor and the environment."

"Canada is committed, and we look forward to working with our Colombian partners to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion," he said in the prepared text of a speech in Vancouver.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama oppose President George W. Bush's deal with Colombia as written. The Democrats want Bogota to crack down on right-wing militias blamed for murdering trade unionists before bringing the deal up for a vote, while the White House is pressing for a spring vote.

Republican candidate John McCain backs the agreement.

Since Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took power in 2002, 470 trade union members have been assassinated, U.S. labor groups say. Some of the killers may be linked to high-level government officials, rights groups say.

Canada's Conservative government 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.

"It's about lending Canada's support to social and political progress. And it's about using our influence to highlight this progress to the world," Emerson said.   Continued...