Press Responses : Tuesday, April 4, 2000

EDC projects damaged environment: report: NGO group attacks lending body's environmental review standards
PUBLICATION The Ottawa Citizen
DATE Tue 04 Apr 2000
BYLINE Jack Aubry

The Export Development Corporation has assisted in some of the world's most environmentally damaging projects, which have endangered lives, polluted rivers and threatened endangered species around the globe, according to a report by the NGO Working Group on the EDC.
The report, called Reckless Lending, lists 10 projects that received EDC financing and insurance coverage that guaranteed the involvement of Canadian companies.
It attacked the EDC's environmental review framework, which it says falls far short of existing industry standards for environmental assessments for use in Canada and abroad.
The report states that the framework allows the EDC to finance projects with known adverse impacts, if the impacts can be justified by undefined anticipated positive aspects of such projects.
``This opens the door for the EDC to allow for significant adverse human rights, environmental and social impacts in developing countries to be justified on the basis of economic gains to Canada -- even if the impacts violate international standards,'' said Pam Foster, spokeswoman for the working group.
The EDC responded immediately to the report, holding a press conference yesterday morning on Parliament Hill, right after one held by the working group, to denounce the accuracy of the report.  It defended its environmental assessment framework, estimating that it rejects about one-third of the proposed projects for financing while improving other projects by demanding changes.
EDC officials say three of the projects cited in the report do in fact meet World Bank standards -- which the working group calls for the EDC to adopt as a minimum.
Ms. Foster responded by saying the group is referring to current World Bank standards and not those of 10 years ago.
``The EDC's credibility at the press conference has to be questioned after their officials said the corporation is adequately disclosing information to the public. Everyone knows that is not true,'' said Ms. Foster.
The EDC is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act and has been sharply criticized for keeping billions of dollars in loans secret in foreign countries. Officials say the EDC is restricted by business confidentiality but it encourages its sponsors to release information about the projects.
The working group said it was releasing the report as the EDC undergoes legislative review by cabinet. The report recommends the EDC require project information to be disclosed publicly at least 60 days before approval by its board.
The report listed the EDC's loans of $18.2 million for the Urra Hydro Project in Colombia; $155 million towards the Three Gorges Dam in China; $430 million for a Candu reactor in South Korea; $20.5 million for the BioBio Dam in Chile; $86.4 million for the Yacyreta Dam in Argentina and Paraguay; $1.36 million towards the Copper Mine in Papua New Guinea.
As well, billions of dollars in financing for Candu reactors in Romania, Turkey, China and Argentina were included in the report.
The report portrayed the Urra Hydro Project in Colombia as a devastating project, saying it has destroyed the traditional food supply of the indigenous people, forcing many off their land and increasing malnutrition.
It also said that Amnesty International has reported that six protesters against the project were killed by paramilitaries with alleged links to the Colombian army, while 10 more have ?`disappeared.''
``EDC argues that it will uphold host country laws. In the case of the Urra dam in Colombia, EDC failed to even do that, resulting in a court injunction,'' said the report.
``Host country laws, in letter or spirit, may not adequately ensure that EDC would not be financing a disaster.''
Members of the NGO Working Group on the EDC include Democracy Watch, International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, MiningWatch Canada, Canadian Auto Workers, Canadian Labour Congress and Project Ploughshares.