November 22, 2008 / 1:28 AM / 9 years ago

Canada and Colombia sign free-trade agreement

LIMA (Reuters) - Canada and Colombia signed a free- trade agreement on Friday, hoping to boost investment and trade flows at a time of global economic instability.

<p>Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe (L) and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper talk to the media after the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and Canada in Lima, November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Enrique Castro Mendivil</p>

The pact, which has been criticized by union leaders in both countries as well as opposition politicians and human rights activists who say Colombia is not doing enough to stop attacks on activists, includes side agreements on labor and environmental rights.

The deal must be ratified by lawmakers in both countries. It was signed as leaders from the United States, China, Japan, Canada, Australia and other Pacific Rim economies gather in Peru’s capital, Lima, for a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said at a news conference the trade deal sent an anti-protectionism message at a time of economic turmoil when some countries have increased trade barriers.

Harper said a stalled trade deal would also send a message of commitment to open markets if it could move forward.

Colombia and the United States signed a trade deal two years ago, but the U.S. Congress has not approved it.

Colombia is an aspiring member of APEC and Uribe was in Peru to speak with business leaders before the APEC summit, although he will not participate in the leaders’ meeting.

“We are taking a very big step at a time of world financial crisis. It’s a step of confidence,” Uribe said of the trade deal with Canada.

Trade between the countries topped $1 billion (675 million) last year, the Canadian prime minister’s office said in a statement.

The deal would eliminate tariffs on 98 percent of current Canadian exports to Colombia, either immediately, or in the next 10 years.

Over a three-to-seven year period, tariffs on most Colombian exports to Canada would also be cut.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Dana Ford; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Peter Cooney

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