Liberal trade critic Scott Brison made the news last week by proposing an amendment to Bill C-2 – the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – that would see human rights monitoring as part of the agreement. It was something both the Liberals and the Conservative government could support, which has become an example of cross-party cooperation in the current Parliament. I caught up with Brison after Question Period today.
Q: Your amendment on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement – how is that coming along?
A: The government has stated in the House that it will support the amendment at the committee, and we already have attained an agreement from the Colombian government. As such, this will be a game-changer in terms of international free-trade agreement negotiations in that it will ensure that on an ongoing basis, human rights will continue to be on the table and part of the discussion for the duration of free trade agreements, not just during the negotiation of them.
Q: I’ve read about how this has come about because you have made these relations with your counterparts, and the Conservatives haven’t. Has this made you more effective as a critic than the minister has been?
A: I’ve known the minister of trade for Colombia for several years through the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders programme, and that relationship has certainly helped. We had started discussions on this several months ago, going back to late August in Bogota, in China in September, some discussions in the fall, and then in January, I actually approached the government – I approached Minister Day with the idea broadly. The Harper government didn’t think that the Colombian government would approve of this approach. I formally approached President Uribe at a bilateral meeting, with President Uribe and Minister Luis Plata in January at the World Economic Forum, and President Uribe almost immediately broadly expressed support for the initiative, and encouraged his ministers – foreign minister Bermudez and Trade Minister Plata – to continue and to finalise negotiations on it. We were able to achieve it – we concluded the negotiations with the Colombians around March 10th and took it to the Conservative government after that.
Q: There’s a new bill for free trade with Jordan now. Would you push to have a similar agreement there?
A: We’ll see what happens at committee. I’ll be interested to see how this proceeds to committee, and certainly the committee – we’re not ruling anything out, we’ll be asking tough questions as we do on all free trade agreements, but I do think that it has the capacity to become standard with free trade agreements as we go forward.