The Canadian and Ecuadorian governments continue to forge ahead with free trade agreement (FTA) plans, despite opposition from social movements and Indigenous Peoples within Ecuador, along with rampant instability.

In these negotiations, the spotlight is on the Canadian mining industry. Canadian mining investments in Ecuador are valued at $1.8 billion, with Canada’s trade commissioner noting that Canadian companies are “leading investors” in Ecuador’s mining sector.

The trade commissioner also praises Ecuador’s “mining-friendly legal framework.”

On March 5, Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa met with Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. Both leaders welcomed “the imminent launch of negotiations toward a Canada-Ecuador free trade agreement.”

The day before, Noboa spoke at the 2024 convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), an annual event that promotes Canadian mining interests globally. March 4 was “Ecuador Day” at PDAC, and Noboa used the opportunity to promote his country as a “mining destination” to Canadian investors.

This is despite what MiningWatch Canada calls “serious human rights violations [that shed] light on the state of conflict over mining projects in peasant and Indigenous territories” in Ecuador.

On March 6, representatives from the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA), the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (COFENIAE), and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAEI) gathered to reject Noboa’s participation in the Canadian mining convention, specifically condemning the Warintza mining project being developed by the Vancouver-based Solaris Resources.

Last month, the Shuar Arutam People filed a complaint against Solaris Resources at the British Columbia Securities Commission, asserting that “Solaris has provided bits of specific information [to shareholders] over the years, but has failed to disclose the extent of Indigenous opposition to the mine, legal vulnerability of the Warintza project in light of past court cases in Ecuador, and growing anti-mining sentiment that threatens the viability of its operations.”

Shortly after Noboa’s visits to PDAC and Ottawa, the Ecuadorian government released a new prior consultation manual for mining investments.

As explains, the manual “highlights that the results of the prior, free and informed consultation process are not binding, which means that the [Ecuadorian] government could choose to greenlight projects even without the consent of the affected communities.”

COFENIAE rejected the manual with a statement that explained:

“Continuing with its extractivist and neoliberal agenda, President Noboa turns our rights into a mere administrative procedure to facilitate the interests of the mining industry and speed up the approval process of mining concessions.”

Indigenous-led popular uprisings against Ecuador’s neoliberal state have been frequent in recent years. Such uprisings occurred in 2019, 2020, and 2022, and in all cases, the Canadian government either remained silent about state repression of protestors or openly sided with the Ecuadorian right-wing.

Ecuador is currently embroiled in what Noboa has labelled an “internal armed conflict” between the state and armed gangs. These gangs began to thrive following the end of the left-wing Rafael Correa presidency, during which violent crime rates plummeted as a result of social investment and community-oriented security reform.

Correa’s right-wing successor Lenín Moreno dismantled Ecuador’s security apparatus while implementing neoliberal reforms that resulted in skyrocketing poverty. Moreno’s successor, Guillermo Lasso, continued these policies. The outcome has been catastrophic for Ecuador’s internal security.

When it comes to Ecuador, Canada is less interested in security stabilization and more interested in resource exploitation.

That is why, amid Ecuador’s crumbling security situation, Canada is pushing ahead with the FTA negotiations. These talks include trying to lock in investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms that would allow Canadian companies to sue the Ecuadorian government if the companies believe the state has interfered with their ability to profit.

Canadian officials continue to endorse ISDS mechanisms despite speakers the fact that, at a parliamentary committee held in February on the free trade negotiations, speakers urged Ottawa to reconsider.

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher Stuart Trew told the committee: 

“Canada is the 12th biggest economy in the world, but we're the fourth most litigious country when it comes to companies using ISDS to challenge environmental decisions in other countries, challenges with respect to mining permits and whatnot.”

Trew also pointed out that these negotiations are taking place in the context of extreme instability in Ecuador. “I do not think these negotiations should proceed at all under the current civil emergency in Ecuador,” he said. “It would be opportunistic for Canada to exploit the current crisis.”

Meanwhile, Kathy Price, Latin America campaigns co-ordinator for Amnesty International Canada, pointed out that “no human rights, environmental and Indigenous Peoples' organizations in Ecuador have been consulted on the agreement.”

For his part, Canadian ambassador to Ecuador Stephen Potter told the committee: “The government of Ecuador wants ISDS as part of this agreement […] They feel that they are not competitive as a destination for investment with other countries in the region.”

Canada’s push to exploit Ecuador’s natural resources, despite Indigenous-led resistance and national instability, fits the broader pattern of Canadian engagement with Latin America, especially in the context of the government’s Critical Minerals Strategy and the new Cold War with China.

Ninety per cent of the world’s rare earths production is located in China, which also controls the expensive processing and refining of these minerals — key links in the production chains of high-tech manufacturing and the defence industries in the U.S. and its allies around the world.

In the context of rising geopolitical tensions, Canada, along with the United States, has taken a number of steps in the last year to lessen its dependence on China for battery materials — including by supporting right-wing governments in Latin American countries, like Ecuador, that agree to open their mineral supplies to Canadian and U.S. companies.

The Canadian government, like Canadian mining companies, does not care about local resistance or human rights concerns. They care about profit, and when it comes to Ecuador’s abundant mineral deposits, there is much profit to be made.

Owen Schalk is a writer from rural Manitoba. He is the author of Canada in Afghanistan: A story of military, diplomatic, political and media failure, 2003-2023.