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The main finding of the Harper government’s first complete human rights impact assessment of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement (CCOFTA), tabled without almost anyone noticing in the House last week, is that there really isn’t any point in doing a human rights impact assessment of the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

In August it’ll be two years since the CCOFTA came into force — much to the chagrin of civil society groups and the NDP — both of whom argued the agreement was unacceptable considering the large number of labour unionists being murdered in Colombia with impunity.

Though some Liberals, too, were initially uncomfortable, they chose to support the then-minority Conservatives’ trade agreement when the then- Liberal trade critic, Scott Brison, brokered a compromise: a mandatory annual human rights impact assessment.

The end result was that the implementing legislation stipulated the government had to table that assessment in the House by June 15 every year.

But since the agreement hadn’t been in force long enough last June for there to have been much of an impact, last year’s assessment pretty much amounted to a promise to do a more complete one this year.

Over 38 pages, this year’s assessment focuses primarily on the impact of tariff removal on Canada’s two biggest imports from Colombia: cut flowers and sugar.

It explains that the embassy of Canada did outcalls with business, local authorities, labour unions, civil society and local and departmental governments to see if they thought the agreement had much of an impact on them.

They apparently didn’t.

“In both industries, global commodity prices and the appreciation of the peso were seen to outweigh the impact of the tariff reduction under the CCOFTA,” the assessment says.

By the time you get to the assessment’s “summary of the findings”, though, you get the impression the government thinks the whole process is kind of a fool’s errand to begin with.

The key is the verb tense they use — the present — not the past.

“It is not possible to establish a direct link between the CCOFTA and the human rights situation in Colombia,” it says.

Nonetheless, as per the implementating legislation, they’ll try again next year.

BJ Siekierski