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The Hamilton Spectator
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Tuesday July 17, 2007
Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended his government's decision to pursue free-trade talks with Colombia despite persistent human-rights problems yesterday, saying it's "ridiculous" to stop economic talks until conditions are ideal.

"We are not going to say, 'Fix all your social, political and human-rights problems and only then will we engage in trade relations with you,' " Mr. Harper said at a joint news conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. "That's a ridiculous position."

Mr. Harper's visit to Colombia, the first by a Canadian prime minister since Ottawa and Bogota established diplomatic relations in 1953, was the first stop on his four-nation Americas tour. It coincided with the start in Lima of three-way free-trade talks involving Canada, Colombia and Peru.

The talks with Bogota are particularly controversial because of an unfolding scandal in which some of Mr. Uribe's allies and relatives have been accused of aiding the right-wing paramilitary militias that are at war with Colombia's leftist insurgents.

The United States and Colombia have negotiated their own free-trade pact, but the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress has vowed to block it, which would be a serious political blow to Mr. Uribe. Canadian human-rights and labour groups have echoed the view that trade talks should be put on the back burner until Colombia's human rights and democratic development issues have been addressed. Source...

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PM backs trade talks amid rights furor