OTTAWA – Canada formally signed a free trade agreement with Honduras on Tuesday, a deal that Trade Minister Ed Fast says will help foster democracy and economic growth in the Central American country.
The deal, signed four years after the current president of Honduras was elected after his predecessor was ousted in a military coup, includes side agreements on environment protection and labour rights.
“This is more than just about trade,” Fast said.
“We believe by partnering with Hondurans we are also able to help them increase prosperity within the country and lift more people out of poverty … and of course share with them our best practices in areas such as human rights, labour, environment, democracy and freedom.”
Ottawa suspended relations with Honduras, home to about 8.5 million people, for about six months after a June 2009 military coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Current president Porfirio Lobo was elected in late 2009 following months of widespread international condemnation of the military putsch that ousted Zelaya.
The signing ceremony in Ottawa, involving Fast and his Honduran counterpart Jose Adonis Lavaire, will eliminate 98 per cent of the tariffs on goods traded between the two countries.
Honduras currently enjoys a massive trade surplus with Canada, although the overall numbers are relatively small.
Honduran exports of knitted material, fruits and nuts, coffee, fish and other items totalled $218.6 million last year, compared to Canada’s $38.6 million in exports, primarily machinery and fertilizers.
Fast said signing of the deal, originally announced two years ago, was delayed by Canada’s desire for a better deal for exports of beef and pork to Honduras.
Canada’s largest presence in Honduras is the Montreal-based clothing manufacturer Gildan Activewear (TSX:GIL), which operates four plants in the country and employs about 20,000 workers.
The operation, along with a U.S. manufacturer, was the subject of complaints to the Fair Labour Association over working conditions. The resolution of the dispute remains unclear.
NDP trade critic Don Davies said his party will want to see the details of the agreement before rendering a final judgment, but said he had concerns dealing with Honduras.
“New Democrats look for opportunities to expand trade with partners who respect human rights, labour and environmental laws, so we have grave concerns about this commercial partnership,” he said in an email response.