OTTAWA — There's a new pothole on the long, bumpy road towards a Canada-Europe free trade deal: whether human rights and weapons of mass destruction should be addressed in a side agreement to the overall pact.
Diplomats from the European Union say that Canada is balking at the inclusion of language in a final text that would speak to the importance of affirming human rights and non-proliferation efforts.
The clauses would not appear in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement but in a separate so-called Strategic Partnership Agreement.
The EU's new ambassador to Canada, Marie-Anne Coninsx, says the two pacts are linked and there won't be a deal on one without the other.
According to the EU delegation, Canadian negotiators are hesitant to agree to a clause allowing for a suspension of the free trade deal if Canada is found in violation of human rights, or found to be proliferating weapons of mass destruction. Though EU negotiators say the suspension clause would only be used in extreme circumstances, the rules by which a country is deemed to be in violation are not codified.
Manfred Auster, the head of the political, press and information section at the EU, said the EU has “essential clauses” that its member states have decided are very important in all of their international agreements.
“We have two major principles enshrined in them, one is the promotion of human rights and the other one, the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
The EU insists Canada sign on to these agreements so that other countries which have agreements with the EU could not accuse negotiators of unfairly singling out certain countries with troubled human rights records, while giving Canada a pass.
The long-stalled free trade talks have been a work in progress since 2009, while negotiations on the partnership agreement started in 2011.
"There are very very few issues which are left," Coninsx said. "The question that is left is exactly the linkage between the two agreements and the possible suspension clause.”
Coninsx said that Canadian officials should not be concerned that the trade deal could be suspended because of, for example, a case of missing aboriginal women in Canada.
It would have to be "a very very serious case” of human rights violations for the trade deal to be suspended, she said. She gave genocide as an example.
Coninsx says she knows Canada and the EU agree totally on the importance of human rights, but if they don't include it in the agreement that could send the "wrong signal" to countries involved in future treaty negotiations.
"There is no question that we are like-minded with our strategic partner Canada on that," Auster said. "We think Canada is fighting against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction globally. We are completely sure that Canada is like ourselves promoting human rights.”
— With files from Althia Raj and The Canadian Press
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