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May 25, 2009

Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star

Re: Free trade with Colombia, Editorial, May 24

By Rick Arnold
Common Frontiers

I agree with your Editorial that Bill C-23, the controversial Canada-Colombia free trade act, “deserves close scrutiny”, and that “Harper’s assurance that the deal will “improve the human rights and security situation” sounds like wishful thinking”, but disagree that there is no proof such a ‘free trade’ deal would set back the cause of human rights, and that the deal will have little impact on either economy.

You rightly point out that this pending trade deal with Colombia is modeled on others that Canada has signed such as with Mexico under NAFTA. For Mexico, not only has the gap between rich and poor widened following 15 years of ‘free trade’, but human rights have also deteriorated. Over 2 million Mexican farmers have been driven off their lands by cheap US grain imports, with some of those desperate farmers falling prey to the drug mafias as recruits and cannon fodder in a spiraling war with the Mexican army.

The impact of a deal with Colombia could have a major impact on the agricultural sector that accounts for 22% of employment in that country. A recent study of this trade deal by the Canadian Council of International Cooperation indicates that 12,000 livelihoods could be undermined by Canada’s industrially produced wheat and barley exports. In addition, half of Colombia’s pork industry is informal and employs 90,000 people, and here there could be a loss of one out of every three jobs as border protections are ratcheted down.

Ordinary Colombians will not benefit from this deal. Meanwhile the Uribe government, mired in scandal and responsible for a climate of impunity around human rights abuses, will see the implementation of a free trade agreement with Canada as lending more international credibility and support.

Rick Arnold is the Coordinator of Common Frontiers - a multi-sectoral network of Canadian organizations working on trade issues www.commonfrontiers.ca . Common Frontiers is also the Canadian chapter of the Hemispheric Social Alliance.