House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I am pleased to rise in the House to debate Bill C-46, I feel somewhat strange doing so. This past Tuesday, February 1, was groundhog day. In the United States, in Philadelphia, Phil came out of his hole and realized that he could not see his shadow. This apparently means we will have an early spring, which I am quite happy about.

Knowing that I would be debating this bill here today, it felt a little like groundhog day. We debated a very similar bill last fall, a bill that had to do with a free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada, which we did not agree with either, but which was passed in this House thanks to the Liberal and Conservative members.

When we explained why we did not agree with that bill, our reasons were very similar to our reasons for disagreeing with this bill. Of course, the current situation in Panama is a little different from what was going on in Colombia and is still going on there today. We did not agree with what was happening in Colombia last fall. The Conservatives and the Liberals voted in favour of the free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia, and the situation in that country has not changed much.

Atrocities are still being committed against people who simply want to defend their labour rights. Workers there have no more rights than they did before and the mining companies do not respect their rights any more than they did. The government is just as corrupt as it was before and very little effort has been made to change anything. Yet in the fall, we were told that the deal would bring considerable change and that discussions were already under way in that regard.

The government is talking about a free trade agreement with the Republic of Panama. It is not that the Bloc Québécois does not believe in free trade. On the contrary, we believe in it and are in favour of it, but we think that we should focus on multilateral approaches instead, which are much more effective in developing fairer trade that respects the interests of all nations.

However, the Conservative government seems to focus more on bilateral agreements, which do not benefit all nations and, more specifically, do not benefit the people who live in the countries involved in the agreements. These bilateral agreements are not beneficial to Quebec or Canada.

In the summer of 2010, the right-wing government in Panama passed a law prohibiting unionized workers from defending their rights and making it a crime to demonstrate to defend their rights. Of course, they say that this law is currently being reviewed, that it will be repealed and completely reworked, but what guarantees do we have?

We were told that Colombian workers would no longer be killed and that they would be heard, but they were not. They can make all the promises they want, but until we have proof and guarantees that men and women will be treated with respect, the problem will persist. One of the problems in Panama right now is that women and children are not treated with respect. Because there are loopholes in the labour laws, children continue to work and women are not treated equally and do not have the respect they deserve.

Naturally, the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill. It is opposed to any bill that would not guarantee that a country's people would have their rights respected. It is also opposed to any bill that would not guarantee, here in Canada, that our banking regulations would be respected.

Unfortunately, Panama does not respect tax regulations and there is tax evasion there. We do not have any assurances right now that this problem will be resolved. The government has not signed any agreements or treaties with Panama to ensure that these regulations would be respected that we would not have to worry in the future if the bill were passed.

I think there are already so many tax havens, and so many businesses, companies and people evading taxes, that our huge deficits keep growing. In my opinion, the people who earn the most money should pay their share, as all citizens must, including the entire middle class who pays the most tax in Quebec and Canada.

I am sure people in the middle class would like companies and individuals who evade taxes to be required to pay their fair share to the Canadian treasury. If they did, our programs could be improved and we would have better programs, not just for women and children, but also for seniors.

The government says that it currently cannot invest more money in programs for seniors and children because of our significant debt. If we went after the money in the countries where tax evasion has been occurring for a very long time now, I am sure we would manage to quickly eliminate our debt. If we just conclude free trade agreements with countries without worrying about resolving this problem, then people who are benefiting from tax evasion and agreements with these countries will continue to evade taxes and put their money wherever they can, without worrying about paying their fair share. That is wrong. Everyone should pay their fair share because everyone benefits from programs.

We are against this bill. It is important for members of the House to understand, yet again, that this type of bill should not be passed. I hope this time we will make sure it is not.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's comments about not supporting this bill. I am not sure of the makeup of her riding, but in my riding there are a number of agricultural producers who would benefit greatly from this bill.

This bill would eliminate 94% of the agricultural tariffs that are currently in place with respect to Panama. Products such as beef, pork, potatoes, pulses, malt, oilseeds, maple syrup and Christmas trees would qualify immediately for exempt status.

Does the member think that this bill would be a negative for farmers, or would it help farmers across Quebec gain access to markets that are so crucial, especially now when farmers are facing very difficult times?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that farmers are facing challenges and that a more effective agricultural and product-naming policy is needed. When that happens, I am sure that they will be able to sell their products more easily. We also need to keep all the services to which farmers already have access and all existing mechanisms in place, so that their products remain the products that we have in Quebec. I know that they will be happy about this.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I understand the Conservative Party recognizes the scourge of drugs in nations around the world. Quite clearly, Panama accounts for about 85% of the transactions in illegal income and about 55% of those cases are directly related to money laundering from the drug industry.

What does my colleague think about this situation where the Conservative government, with its high-sounding talk about putting Canadians in jail for every little drug crime, is now jumping into bed with a country that has the worst record in the world for laundering drug money?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that money has no smell for the Conservatives no matter where it comes from.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

February 4th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to join in the debate on Bill C-46. The bill has been debated in the House for quite some time and quite a few members have spoken to it. There seems to be a theme developing.

I would like to say that having a lengthy debate on a trade agreement like this is largely symbolic. The reason we are having such a debate on a trade issue in this House is that Canada is undergoing a change as an international trading entity. Canada is experiencing its first trade deficit in 30 years. Those who do not understand or study history are doomed to repeat it. There were years well after Confederation when, at various times, various governments attempted to isolate Canada from its natural trading partners and potential trading partners. We saw a period of Conservative isolationism under Prime Minister Diefenbaker, and it was not good for Canada.

What we are seeing here is a government that may talk about free open trade, may talk about improving Canada's international trade situation, may talk about Canada's international reputation as being the foot in the door toward trade negotiations, but that talk has not been followed through with achievement. Let us look at some recent facts.

Canada being denied its seat at the United Nations Security Council was a direct result of a lack of campaigning by the Conservative government for that seat. What campaign there was came all too late and was all too little. I would have thought that, of all people, those Conservatives would know something about campaigning. We will give them some credit. They use government money to campaign domestically. However, when they should have campaigned for the seat on the United Nations Security Council, they did not. We lost that international prestige. Being a member of the Security Council might have opened some doors toward further trade negotiations. It diminished Canada's role and reputation internationally.

Let us look at the second item that has blurred the otherwise glossy image of Canada on the international stage. That is the whole imbroglio around the UAE, losing the back entry, theatre entry, for our forces in Afghanistan over a petty, negligent negotiation over domestic air rights. What a shame to have this squabble on the international scene, which further diminishes Canada's image internationally.

We can start with how the Prime Minister has made statements and has spoken to Americans about how he views Canada. I particularly remember, and will never forget, his comments made about Canada to an American assembly of right-wing conservatives in Canada. He made these comments and they shall never leave my brain as long as I am able to remember them. There is a whole posse of statements.

One of them is, “In Atlantic Canada, they have a culture of defeat”. I am from Atlantic Canada. I found that offensive.

He also talked about bilingualism, one of the founding principles of our nation. The Québécois and the people who speak French in communities outside Quebec have a birthright to speak French and understand their government's services in the French language. It is something which, as a proud Acadian by marriage, I believe in very firmly. It is an entrenched principle in law in Canada, by statute in New Brunswick. I might add that in Canada's first officially bilingual city, the city of Moncton, it is not just law, it is a way of life.

However, the Prime Minister once said, “bilingualism is the god that failed”. That is what the Prime Minister said.

This bill is not about bilingualism. It is about how he perceives our country and how he sells our country to other nations. It is not a real selling pitch to say, “I live there, but in Atlantic Canada they have a culture of defeat. And our official languages policy, well, that is the god that failed”.

Also, he is the person who said that we are a failed northern European welfare state, or something along those lines.

I do not want to get used to quoting the Prime Minister verbatim because there are so many faux pas that diminish our role and reputation as an international leader.

We are facing a trade deficit, the first in 30 years. The Conservative government has diminished our image internationally, yet it wants a deal with Panama so it can say that it is great champion of international trade, that Canada's image will be completely resurrected like Lazarus because it has a deal with Panama.

There are many problems with the state in Panama. There is no question that the NDP would go on ad infinitum about all the problems with Panama. We agree, from a corporate social responsibility point of view, that there are definitely domestic problems in Panama.

There is another sovereign principle though, and that is that we cannot get involved in the affairs of foreign nations directly. What we can do is, by moral suasion, bring countries into the fold by virtue of trading partnerships and show them a better way to treat their people, to achieve internationally accepted standards of corporate social responsibility, social justice at home, et cetera. For this reason this deal is should be supported.

On this side, we see it as a symptom of how little the Conservative government has on the shelf to show for five years of governing and directing Canada through the waters of international trade, international diplomacy and our stature generally.

By definition, we are a trading nation. Our internal market is only 33 million consumers. We also happen to have massive reserves in natural resources. We need to export and import. We need trading partners. We need to cultivate positive relationships with our trading partners. How did we come to lose our trading surplus? Why did the government do this to us when we have a rising dollar and oil reserves that are the envy of most countries in the world?

The Conservative government should have been contemplating the development of new trading partnerships years ago. We knew it was risky to rely so much on our number one trading partner, the United States. The government has been lax in exploring new markets. Whenever we denigrate other countries, it does not help.

If the U.S. economy experience is something similar to Japan's lost decade, and let us hope that is not the case, we stand to keep our negative trade balance for at least a decade if we do not diversify our trading partners.

The government needs to do more to protect us from American protectionism. It is an automatic reaction in down times for some American politicians to close the tent and say that they have to protect their people. I am not debating whether they are mean-spirited or not. In the famous words of an Irish-American politician, Tip O'Neill, all politics is local. That is how protectionist measures evolved in the United States. When we have someone as eminent as Joe Lieberman and other sainted and long serving members of the House and Senate, from both parties, saying that they need to watch and tighten the borders, the economy and get America on its feet first, I believe this is not an intended but inadvertent danger posed by Americans toward our economy.

The government needs to do more to develop new trading partnerships in Europe and in the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China. Let us talk about China for a second.

The government is very slow to move to the realization that China is a behemoth. It is the power of the future. We must make our concerns known about human rights. We all believe in human rights enforcement and upholding human rights internationally. However, we must talk to them. There is no way we can change the heart or the mind of a nation or a people without talking to them. The government did not do that for years.

As I mentioned briefly, we have concerns with the issues of tax havens and labour rights. However, let us look at the conclusion of this.

The famed Panama Canal underwent a $5.7 billion expansion recently. It opens up new opportunities in Central America and Canada and we need to be part of this progress. There is too little that prevents us from entering this agreement. There is so much to win. We are talking about a $90 million economy in Panama. It is not the biggest deal that could be brought to the table, but we support it. We just wish the government would take better care and be a better steward of our international reputation in diplomacy, in trading and in stature.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to Bill C-46 before, but it is an important issue that deserves full consideration.

Many of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party have mentioned the many problems in the trade agreement with Panama, none more so than our member for Burnaby—New Westminster who has worked tirelessly on this file. He has single-handedly orchestrated the only truly effective opposition to this very flawed trade deal.

However, I was very disappointed to hear about what has been happening in committee consideration of Bill C-46, with the Liberals siding time and time again with the Conservatives to defeat the amendments put forward by the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster. His amendments were excellent and they would have been helpful.

Amendments that would have improved the legislation include one that promotes sustainable development. That was defeated when the Liberals joined with the Conservatives. One to promote sustainable investment was also defeated by the Liberals in committee in the same way. One to require taxation transparency was defeated by the Liberals. One to ensure the protection of labour rights, including the right to collective bargaining, was defeated by the Liberals. The key motion, to hold off on this deal until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement, again was defeated by the Liberals.

Often, it is getting really hard to tell the difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The way the so-called official opposition has rolled over on opposing this problematic trade deal, and other deals, has only blurred the line between these two parties so people wonder if there really is a difference at all anymore.

One of the many problems with this trade deal is the lack of measures to ensure proper conservation, particularly regarding biodiversity. I know this all too well, being a biologist myself. We know that the Isthmus of Panama has a rich ecosystem with over 10,000 species of plants. Of these, 1,250 are known to exist only in Panamanian rainforests. There is nothing on climate change or greenhouse gas pollution in either this trade agreement or in the environmental side agreement. These words do not even appear in the agreement.

Both countries signed the Kyoto accord, but as we can tell from the actions of the Conservative government and the Liberal government before it, merely signing an international agreement does not mean Canadians will respect our obligations in these agreements.

Panama's environment has a wealth of biodiversity and its diverse and rich ecosystems are now threatened by many development projects under way without regard for the possible effects on the environment. This agreement does not deal with that at all, or with any of the key environmental issues in Panama today, such as water pollution from agricultural run-off, threats to fishery resources, endangerment of wildlife habitats and therefore to wildlife as well, deforestation, land degradation, wetland destruction and soil erosion. Of particular concern are the endangerment of wildlife habitat and the depletion of fisheries as a result of projects such as the construction of commercial shrimp ponds and recreational facilities in the coastlines.

This headlong development is contributing to a level of deforestation of the Panamanian tropical rainforest and wetland destination that was only matched previously when the Panama Canal was originally bulldozed through the jungle. Together, these are contributing to major soil erosion problems in the unique geography of this isthmus country.

We cannot have a complete consideration of this trade deal with Panama without mentioning serious omissions regarding labour rights. Panama has had a poor record in respecting the rights of workers. In fact, just last year many people were killed there when workers protested draconian changes to labour laws by the Panamanian government.

The changes were typical Conservative, union-busting techniques to let companies fire and replace striking workers with impunity, to criminalize the right to demonstrate, to give police immunity from prosecution afterward and to ban the collection of dues. When they objected to all this, hundreds of labour leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail.

With a regime like this in Panama, we would think that basic labour rights would be a consideration in any trade deal, but things like the protecting of basic right to organize are not in this deal at all.

During second reading debate, some members talked about the serious problems with Panama being a tax haven. I mentioned that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, blacklisted Panama as an uncooperative tax haven in 2008. It was one of only 11 countries with no sharing of tax information.

I would like to examine the serious implications of the tax issues with this trade deal in Panama more today. The government of Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. Why? It is because it has pursued a deliberate course away from information sharing and toward becoming a deliberate, planned tax haven. It has succeeded. There are an estimated 400,000 corporations, including offshore corporations, in this tiny country, more than quadruple the number registered in Canada.

Billions of dollars in money laundering is performed in Panama each year, including money from drug trafficking from places like Mexico and Colombia. Now it is one of the world's worst tax havens on top of that.

One of the reasons the U.S. Congress has held off on a risky trade deal with Panama is because of tax shelter issues and concerns over money laundering. For example, a 2009 report by the United States state department red flagged Panama for these issues things like: laundering drug money and being an illegal tax haven; adopting the U.S. dollar; lots of offshore banks and shell companies; the world's second largest free trade zone; and its location between Colombia and Mexico. The U.S. state department also noted that Panamanian banks were already favoured by global criminal organizations for money laundering.

It is no wonder criminal organizations like Panama. The financial system is famous for its secrecy. The government there does not even have the legal authority to learn crucial information about offshore corporations set up there, even who owns them.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, again by the U.S. state department, said:

The funds generated from illegal activity are susceptible to being laundered through a wide variety of methods, including the Panamanian banking system, Panamanian casinos, bulk cash shipments, pre-paid telephone cards, debit cards, insurance companies, real estate projects and agents, and merchandise. Panama’s vulnerability to money laundering is exacerbated by the government’s lack of adequate enforcement, personnel, and resources devoted to anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism... as well as the sheer volume of economic transactions, a significant portion of which is in cash.

We are talking about U.S. cash.

Lawmakers in the U.S. want Panama to take steps to increase transparency to share tax information for a U.S.-Panama trade.

Alarm bells should be going off. We are signing a comprehensive trade deal, one that ties the hands of anyone wanting to combat tax evasion and money laundering.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat a question I asked one of the member's colleagues earlier today, and that had to do with the support that the bill would give to Canadian agricultural producers.

When we think that 94% of the agricultural exports from Canada would be exempt under the bill, I cannot believe the member's party would be opposed to this kind of access to markets for our farmers.

Could he explain why his party opposes a plan that would support Canadian agriculture?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it clearly will not be a big deal for Canadian agriculture for exports to this very tiny country.

I have two questions in response to the hon. member's question.

First, why, if the Conservatives cared about agriculture in Canada, did they try to kill the Grain Commission, the inspection of Canadian grain and eliminate the grain inspector jobs across Canada, including Thunder Bay?

An even bigger question is for all the Conservatives. In this day when good, fair trade deals with prosperous, forward-thinking and visionary countries might be a good idea, why are the Conservatives making deals with the losers, instead of the winners?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in my colleague's comments on the peculiar choice for a bilateral trade agreement with that particular country given that it is one of the world's worst and most well-known tax havens where tax fugitives go to stash their money so it is free from the reach of the tax man.

I was shocked to learn that over 400,000 corporations are registered in tiny Panama, which is actually four times the total number of corporations in all of Canada.

Would the member care to comment on the idea of tax fugitives using what they call tax-motivated expatriation to avoid the reach of the Canadian tax authorities and so that they do not need to pay their fair share? Why is the government encouraging any involvement with a country that has that kind of a reputation and record?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the Conservative government is tying its aspirations and its image to the coattails of the United States. The United States has been seeking multilateral free trade deals around the world for a long time and has failed to achieve them, including at the latest round in Doha.

It is quite clear that, having failed in multilateralism, the United States and now Canada are pursuing, one by one, these bilateral trade deals with anybody who will make them, including some of the less honourable countries in the world.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
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12:45 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I was a little bit concerned. We are all familiar with the battle that the NDP has with free trade agreements and its opposition to virtually all of them. We have seen that in the past here in the House.

I was struck by my colleague's comments as I came into the House. He talked about the fact that we are only picking losers for the deals in these free trade agreements. We are working on free trade agreements with dozens of countries, including countries like India and Morocco. I do not know if the member is familiar with the announcement last week that we are initiating a free trade agreement with Morocco and of its importance for western Canadian durum and wheat producers.

Does the member consider India and Morocco as loser countries as well?

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have little doubt that the Conservatives and I would have different definitions of the kinds of countries with which we should be signing free trade deals.

In response I will just say that we should be signing free trade agreements and fair trade agreements with countries that have basic human rights, basic democracy, sustainable economies, sustainable fiscal policies, sustainable banking situations, sustainable ecosystems and that are fair and honourable to labour.

Canada-Panama Free Trade Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

I am pleased to participate in a debate that, unusual for this House in recent times, we had hoped would be relatively free of heated partisan rhetoric. It is not so, but we had hoped. I support the passage of the bill for many of the same reasons that members sitting on the government side of the House support it.

Unfortunately, before we discuss the meat and potatoes of Bill C-46, we need to deal with the amendments put forward by the NDP. I appreciate that the NDP does not support the bill. I can also appreciate that it put forward amendments following the rules and practices of the House. However, this is simply a last ditch attempt to halt a bill that would allow for better economic relations with Panama.

Let us look at what the NDP is asking for and why this 11th hour effort is just another example of that party's inability to accept that free trade is not a bad thing.

The NDP began by proposing that clause 7 be deleted but that is the clause that sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, that poses a bit of a problem. It would be similar to a car with no driver. Maybe those members are trying for a revival of the TV show Knight Rider but most of us like to have a driver behind the wheel. They are also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions and, without those kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.

I know members of the NDP want to ensure that the bill does not pass, so it is not a major surprise to see such amendments, but this total disdain for the possible benefits of free trade is very disappointing. Why these stall tactics without some truly constructive amendments?

They are also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering the bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. It seems to me that these matters are important to NDP members, so I question their objective in opposing clause 12.

In addition, they are asking that clause 63 be deleted, the coming into force provision.

Without those clauses there would be no bill. Are my NDP colleagues playing political games here in the House rather than having an informative and intelligent debate? Many of these issues have already been discussed in committee.

I can safely say that I will not support the amendments, but I will take a bit more time to talk about the bill as currently drafted.

In spite of the global economic decline, Panama's gross domestic product increased by 10.7% in 2008, which is one of the highest rates in the Americas. It is expected to increase by 5.6% in 2010. In 2009, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million; Canada's exports were worth $91.4 million and imports from Panama totalled $40.7 million.

Canada's main exports to Panama include machinery, electronic equipment for vehicles, pharmaceutical equipment, leguminous seeds, and frozen potato products. Services related to export that Canada offers include financial services, engineering services, and communications information and technology services. Goods that Canada imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, primarily gold; fruit and nuts; and fish and seafood products.

The Panama Canal is essential to international trade. Its expansion should be finished by 2014. This $5.3 billion project could create opportunities for Canadian companies to provide services in the areas of construction, environment, engineering and consultation on capital investment projects, as well as in many other areas.

Some of the issues covered under the trade agreement include market access for goods, cross-border trade services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement.

Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on agricultural products of 13.6%, with tariffs reaching peaks as high as 260% on some products. The free trade agreement will eliminate those tariffs on 90% of products immediately, and on the other 10% little by little over the next five to 15 years. This should enhance the competitive position of Canadian agricultural exports such as frozen potato products, pulses, pork—which is currently taxed at a rate of 47%—malt, processed foods and beef.

Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on non-agricultural goods of 6.2%, with peaks of up to 81% applied on several key Canadian exports. The free trade agreement will completely eliminate those tariffs, which will certainly help Canadian exporters of fish and seafood, construction materials and equipment, industrial and electrical machinery, paper products, and vehicles and parts.

Canada would immediately eliminate over 99% of the tariffs imposed on current imports from Panama.

The free trade agreement will also address non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods and the promotion of good regulatory practices, transparency and international standards.

We live in a global economy and our survival as a nation depends on our ability to work with other nations around the world. We have seen the disadvantages we incur when we are slow to interact with growing economies.

The fact is that Canada today has a trade deficit. For the first time in 30 years, we are actually buying more than we are selling internationally. That is ominous for a small, open economy like Canada that has depended disproportionately on external trade for our standard of living and our wealth as a country.

If we look at where the world is headed and where the growth will be over the next five to ten years, we see that it will be in China, India and in the Asian economies. We also see a lot of opportunities in Africa, despite the governance concerns in certain countries. We see a lot of progress in Africa and we see a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity.

Then we look at the Latin American countries and, increasingly, it is becoming clear that being dependent on the traditional economies of the U.S. and Europe is not where we want to be. We need to think outside the box. We need to look for new partners and facilitate trade. We need to provide tools both at home and abroad that will make Canada a country that others want to invest in and trade with. If there are problems between the two, we will work it out. Simply saying “no deal” because no country is perfect is a pretty obvious sign of a very narrow-minded party.

Yes, I agree that Panama represents a small trading partner compared to the government's missed opportunities with China and India, but it is still a real and obvious partner. I strongly believe that there is strength in numbers and, even if the government has failed to truly engage our largest trading partners, we must never forget about the smaller ones. They provide unique opportunities and highlight Canada's place on the world stage as a country open to all.

In closing, I must remind the House that the 21st century is here and we cannot close our doors to the world. We need to be looking at partnerships with any and all governments while promoting our values and strengths abroad.

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12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter into the debate on Bill C-46. If we are to use trade as an instrument to elevate the human condition and not just to exchange goods and services, then we must consider the fact that trade with Canada should be viewed as a privilege and not as any kind of right. In fact, we should be choosing trading partners who earn the privilege of trading with a great nation like Canada.

If it is our intention, even as a secondary goal, to help elevate the standard of wages and living conditions of the people with whom we are trading, if we are indeed to be global partners in the globalization of capital, then we must also consider that with the globalization of capital must also come the globalization of human rights, labour rights and environmental standards. We should use our capacity as a trading nation to achieve those secondary goals.

I would go further and argue that we should not enter into any country that will not stipulate to those lofty standards that seek to elevate the human condition. We owe it to our global partners and we owe it to the global efforts to eradicate poverty and create a planet that is sustainable for the future.

I note, not by any kind of coincidence, that the driving force behind this trade agreement is the mining industry. It is the greatest lobbyist that came forward to try to justify and defend a bilateral free trade agreement with a country like Panama that does not meet any of the standards I just pointed out. Panama does not meet any of the tests of a country that has taken active steps to recognize and protect human rights. Also, it is a country that has actively taken steps to undermine the health and well-being of the global economy by proactively creating itself to be one of the largest tax havens in the world.

We have to ask ourselves as parliamentarians why we would want to participate in a trade agreement with a country whose actions and actual practice we abhor, or claim to abhor. The members in this chamber often raise the fact that we criticize and chastise those tax fugitives who would avoid paying their fair share of taxes by harbouring their activities and funnelling their profits in dummy shell companies around the world even though the corporate taxes in this country are going down to 15%, one of the lowest in the developed world. It is estimated that we lose $7 billion a year in lost tax revenue by allowing situations to exist where countries can move their taxable profits and income into these dummy companies.

Are we not acquiescing to, or even encouraging this international behaviour by recognizing these countries with a free trade agreement? Canada, I am proud to say, does not tolerate this kind of thing lightly. It seems a contradiction to me.

In recent years we have had this debate over and over again. Even though the parliamentary secretary said we are engaged in negotiations of free trade agreements with countries such as India and Morocco, those are not the ones that come forward in the list of priorities for the government or before this chamber. We end up debating free trade agreements with Colombia and narco-states overrun by criminals, gangsters and people who murder trade unionists in the streets. Panama is not much better. It is a sanctuary and refuge for some of the worst actors in the world.

What business do we have welcoming them into our family of trade when we try to pretend that we operate at a higher standard of behaviour? Why should we stoop to that level of behaviour? Why would we be sullied? Why would we let them darken our towels until they clean up their own act?

If we are to elevate the human condition of our trading partners, it should be a prerequisite that they come up to our standards, not that we lower our standards to theirs. With globalization comes the risk of harmonizing to the lowest common denominator, not the highest common denominator. We must be ever vigilant, as parliamentarians, to ensure that the latter does not happen.

It is difficult to put the brakes on something that sounds as innocuous as free trade. I think the words were chosen very carefully. But, our negotiating history in free trade agreements has been poor. They are not fair trade agreements. The NDP is always being accused of not being in favour of free trade. Nothing could be further from the truth. If it truly were free trade, if it truly were fair trade, it would have our enthusiastic support and endorsement, but we never see that.

We always send Department of Justice lawyers and globe-trotting representatives to negotiate these free trade agreements. I do not know who gives them their mandate, but they keep coming back with pretty bad packages. Our history has been appalling in negotiating to ensure that the best interests of Canadians are paramount before these trade agreements are signed. It seems we will sign anything with anyone. We are too easy. Our bargaining stance is on our knees. We beg them to leave us with a bit of dignity when they are finished with us. That has been our experience. We wind up with deals that cost us a fortune, that do not protect and defend our standards on an issue such as supply management regime, for instance. All these things are at risk when we enter into these deals and arrangements.

I notice in this deal, again, we have made a classic mistake regarding most favoured nation treatment and national treatment. Again, foreign investment from the partner country should receive the same treatment as domestic investment or investment from any third country. The same language keeps popping up in all these trade agreements. Even after the NDP reminds the government of the day not to do that, it keeps doing it again. It does not listen to us. Sometimes I am concerned that Conservatives are not listening at all.

It boggles the mind, really. I lived through the great free trade agreement debates in 1988. I watched as we allowed section 11 in NAFTA. We leave ourselves vulnerable time and time again with our eagerness to appease and please our trading partners. We seem willing to sacrifice the best interests of Canadians.

It is like Margaret Atwood said about the Canadian beaver. It seems as soon as there is any stress at all, we get backed into a corner and we bite off our own testicles. I agree with Margaret Atwood. It is not an image that we like to dwell on, but we do not show the kind of strength in our bargaining position that we should when we are at international bargaining tables.

Now we are faced with yet another free trade agreement to debate. We debated ones on Peru and Colombia. Now we have Panama. Where are these big trade agreements with the big actors that the Conservative government says it is negotiating? I would argue it is at the negotiating table, but probably kneeling at the negotiating table, begging to please, please sign a deal with us. It will give away whatever other countries want, never mind the best interests of Canadians, never mind the best interests of the people who sent us here. The government will sign anything with anyone anytime, if it can get it through the House of Commons.

It is a good thing this is a minority Parliament. We are going to keep fighting this bill as long as we can.