Proposed Canada-Ecuador Free Trade Agreement Poses Unacceptable Risk, NGOs Warn

MiningWatch Canada — Acción Ecológica

(Ottawa) The Canadian government has set its sights on a Free Trade Agreement with Ecuador, but communities already feeling the impacts of Canadian mining investment warn that a FTA would exacerbate violence against environment and Indigenous defenders who are organized in their opposition to Canadian projects. 

Canada already leads when it comes to foreign direct investment in Ecuador, at $3.7 billion, with the majority in investments in Ecuador’s mining sector. Many of these projects are putting at risk key watersheds, while communities who are organizing in opposition are being met with death threats, intimidation, and the militarization of their territories. 

On January 6, 2023, the Canadian government launched a series of consultations regarding the proposed FTA, asking Canadian civil society to submit their views to determine Canada’s priorities. MiningWatch Canada, together with the Americas Policy Group (AGP) and other Canadian organizations responded, emphasizing that international cooperation must hold at its core human rights, including Indigenous rights and labour rights, and environmental protection. In their submissions, the Canadian organizations raise concerns that Ecuadorian civil society is being left out of any consultations regarding a potential free trade agreement, in violation of their rights to information and free, prior, and informed consent. 

A statement signed by 16 Ecuadorian social and environmental organizations and research centres points out how this potentia FTA is not in the interest of Indigenous peoples, their lands, or the environment: “We recognize Free Trade Agreements as instruments of transnational corporate power…that grant excessive legal protections to investors while deepening extractivism, deregulating labour and environmental protections,” the statement reads. 

“No agreement must advance without the full and meaningful participation of the people of Ecuador,” says Viviana Herrera, Latin America Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. “Canada is proposing to deepen a ‘bilateral commercial relationship’ through this FTA. But how can an agreement truly be bilateral when the Ecuadorian people are being left out of this process? It seems like the country who stands to win the most out of this deal will be Canada – and by extension, Canadian mining companies.” 

Mining conflicts and violence expected to be exacerbated with the signing of an FTA 

The consultation taking place in Canada is happening against a background of increased opposition to Canadian mining projects in Ecuador, and a dramatic increase in conflict and militarization of the territories where those projects are located. Just last week, in southeast Ecuador, the Alliance for Human Rights of Ecuador publicly denounced the militarization of parts of the province of Loja to allow for Guayacan Gold – subsidiary of the Canadian companies Salazar Resources and Aventus Mining – to carry out exploration activities in its Santiago mining concession in the páramo de Fierro Urco. For decades, the Indigenous Kichwa Saraguro and surrounding communities have fiercely opposed mining in the páramo de Fierro Urco, a high-altitude wetland vital home to significant biodiversity and key to providing water for the area. 

There are concerns that a potential free trade agreement would exacerbate this type of threat and intimidation against environment, human rights, and Indigenous leaders who oppose Canadian mining projects, while leading to increased militarization of their territories, as well as greater impunity for Canadian mining companies who violate human rights given that no mechanism currently exists in Canada to hold companies accountable for abuse. 

More power for companies to sue Ecuador

Chief among concerns raised in the public statement signed by Ecuadorian organizations is the inclusion of an investment chapter and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism – a mechanism used by mining companies that allows them to sue countries in private supranational tribunals if they feel their investments are being threatened. Foreign investor protection agreements often preclude governments from introducing more robust environmental or human rights standards. 

“The territories are treated as sacrificial – a mentality which will be even more difficult to reverse if a Free Trade Agreement further cements legal protections for these investments,” reads the statement

“Communities in other countries have succeeded in getting their national governments to take measures to protect their territory and water, only then to be sued for millions of dollars under the investment clauses in free trade agreements,” says Viviana Herrera. “Plain and simple, ISDS is a system that threatens the rights of communities affected by Canadian mining projects to self-determination.”

Canadian diplomacy pushes for more Canadian mining in Ecuador 

Next week, Toronto plays host to the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) annual conference – bringing tens of thousands of mining industry players together with government representatives to promote mining, including “Ecuador Day: Next mining destination.” Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador Sylvie Bédard spent PDAC 2022 promoting the expansion of Canadian mining in Ecuador and this year will unlikely be any different. 

As the Canadian government gets ready to engage in conversations with its Ecuadorian counterpart, we call on the Canadian government to respect community rights to self-determination in Ecuador and halt any diplomatic support for Canadian mining investment in territories which have already said no to mining. No free trade agreement must advance without their free, prior, and informed consent. 

Key documents

Media contacts: 

  • Viviana Herrera, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada | [email protected], +1-438-993-1264 (English and Spanish)
  • Ivonne Ramos, Acción Ecológica, [email protected], +593 99 936 6737 (Spanish)