House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. I have to confess that when I was looking at that, I was wondering exactly the same thing. We asked that there be such an accord and we understand that Panamanian authorities said no. The story leads us to believe that we walked away and said if Panama did not want one, then we would not have one. I do not understand that. It is a crucial element in that situation. It should have been there. The treaty should not have been signed until it was there. As my hon. colleague says, we do not want to over-exploit our situation of strength with other smaller economies, but in a case like that, in the long term, it is not helping anybody. It is a bit mind-boggling.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is simple. The NDP has noted that it supported only one free trade agreement in the House relatively recently and that was the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement. If the member looked at the free trade agreement with Jordan and the one with Panama, could she say where the differences are? New Democrats supported the agreement with Jordan. I do not understand why they are not supporting the one with Panama.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, that shows the problem with the way the government approaches issues like free trade. Despite what some of our colleagues say, New Democrats have never said we are against all free trade agreements. The government seems to say all free trade agreements are good.

With respect to Jordan, another country I have visited, by the way, we face a very different situation both in terms of human rights and workers' rights. To my knowledge, Jordan has never been on the OECD black list of tax evasion havens. They are two different situations. In each situation what would be ideal is that we negotiate more multilaterally, but if we are intent on negotiating bilaterally, we have to look at each situation and its specific circumstances, and Panama is not Jordan.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues have made it clear that we oppose this bill for a number of very good reasons.

When the committee looked at the previous bill on free trade with Panama, Bill C-46, we heard convincing testimony about the fact that the Republic of Panama was a tax haven and about its poor record on workers' rights. We proposed motions and amendments that would have corrected the worst parts of the agreement, but the Conservatives and the Liberals both rejected our proposals. We are disappointed that the new bill, despite its inspiring new short title, has not fixed the fundamental shortcomings of its predecessor or introduced tax disclosure provisions.

The government will no doubt say that we oppose this bill because the NDP opposes all trade, but I am here to say that that is not true. The difference between the Conservatives and the NDP is that we believe that the economy should serve the people, not the other way around.

Their faith is in capitalism; our faith is in man. That is what truly separates us. With this principle in mind, free trade is not a good in and of itself but a means to an end, one that serves the interests of the majority of human beings and not a minority of wealthy people. As one of our old slogans goes, put humanity first.

However, I am personally willing to concede that trade is part of the march of history. I would even go so far as to say that trade makes the world smaller and can help bring humanity closer together, which is always a good thing. Man has too long suffered from tribalism, and what unites us is far more fundamental than what separates us. If I may use a metaphor, it is about time we undo the loss of family caused by the arrogance of the Tower of Babel.

However, history has proven that free trade does not automatically mean greater prosperity for the majority or greater rights. Free trade can also tear us apart. Must I remind my colleagues across the aisle that we are still living with the terrible ramifications of 19th century colonialism, that colonialism did not bring us closer together but rather has created deep cleavages and violence, which we are still trying to repair today, and that the major justification of colonialism was freer trade?

However, as progressives we cannot get in the way of the march of history. Having said that, these economic forces are not deterministic and there has always been a subjective element to them. Man has made decisions to engage in trade in particular ways, and better decisions must be made. These economic forces should not be viewed as the Titans of Greek myth, terrible chaotic forces that cannot be controlled. On the contrary, they are forces we must harness to make the world a better place. Olympus must prevail after all.

Therefore, free trade must also be fair trade and must help solve the deep-rooted inequalities between the developed and underdeveloped world, the rich and the poor, the northern and southern hemispheres. We simply cannot allow free trade to exacerbate existing divisions or, worse, create new ones between peoples. We cannot be so naive as to believe that Canadian companies, like companies all over the world whose raison d'être is profit, do not see a particular pecuniary advantage in doing business in countries whose labour standards are lower. I am convinced that if we ask most Canadians whether their government should sign trade deals with another country because some influential companies would like to have access to cheaper labour, where fellow human beings are not paid a decent wage and where dirty money can be laundered, they would say that is simply not fair.

The reality is that there are many Canadian companies behaving badly all around the world, in Africa, Jordan and Latin America, and it is misplaced patriotism to defend them. However, what if we create a situation where free trade and fair trade can work together; where free trade can assure social progress is maintained and enhanced with those countries we trade with; where more prosperity and not more exploitation is the result; where the gap between rich and poor is rendered smaller; where the environment is respected? Is this not the ideal of trade?

The problem is that the bill does not do enough to secure everyone's prosperity and protect their fundamental rights. For instance, it should have protected unionized workers in Panama by giving them the right to collective bargaining and requiring the Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama-Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian and Panamanian labour and trade unions. Unfortunately, the fact is that a free trade zone would do nothing to protect workers' rights, and this is already a serious problem in Panama.

As for sustainable development, a clause needs to be added that meets the needs of a free trade agreement in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as set out in the Brundtland report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. The problem is that protecting the environment is difficult in Panama.

In order to be considered responsible, an investment must maximize social good as well as financial return, specifically in the areas of the environment, social justice and corporate governance, in accordance with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. A responsible investment should help to put an end to tax havens that allow money from illegal drug trafficking to be laundered.

Unfortunately, this bill does very little to correct these problems. It is simply not enough. Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of reciprocal, sustainable and equitable trade, trade that builds partnerships with other countries that uphold human rights principles, while recognizing the need to expand market opportunities. The federal government should stop focusing exclusively on the NAFTA model and remain open to other possible solutions.

Panama is not like the United States or Europe. The government should explore other means of expanding trade by coming up with a vigorous trade promotion strategy that will set the standard for a fairer society for the rest of the world. Fair and equitable trade should be the overarching principle, and not just an afterthought, in all trade negotiations between the Canadian government and other countries.

The NDP strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country. Such a trade agreement would involve a comprehensive trade strategy whereby the fundamental principle of negotiation would be the defence and protection of human rights. It would prohibit the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been manufactured under sweatshop conditions, using forced child labour, or under other conditions that are inconsistent with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

In the NDP's vision, all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems. That is a fundamental principle. This positive and decent vision puts humanity at the centre of our concerns. Let us build a better future for everyone in our trade relations with other countries.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his presentation this afternoon. I enjoy working with that member on my committee, government operations and estimates. He does an excellent job there on behalf of the New Democratic Party.

I know he is probably as surprised as I was that he supported the free trade agreement with Jordan, but I would just like to know if the member could tell us which clauses in this bill, on the Panama agreement, are different from the clauses in the bill on the Jordan agreement? Why are they different, and why is that a problem and the reason for not supporting the Canada-Panama agreement?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank my hon. colleague from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates for his question. I would also like to say that he does excellent work on that committee.

As it happens, I just came from a meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade, which is currently studying the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement. The hon. member should not jump to any conclusions about the level of support from a party.

We are currently studying the problem. For example, we just heard some very disturbing testimony on the working conditions in Jordan, specifically for foreign workers. There are some extreme cases of abuse. At this time, the hon. NDP members who sit on that committee are studying the agreement in order to ensure that it is a good agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think the member might be confusing other people inside the chamber in regard to what the NDP position is on Jordan. When I asked the question of one of his colleagues earlier, she made it very clear that the NDP would be supporting the Jordan free trade agreement.

Now, the member indicates, because it is still in committee, that he wants to approach it with an open mind. I think the NDP members should be a little clearer. I know they are nervous about this being the first ever free trade agreement they might contemplate supporting and so they are treading carefully, but they should be a little consistent on this.

The NDP voted to see it to go into committee. However, is the NDP supporting the free trade agreement with Jordan? We know its position on this particular bill but what is its position on the Jordan bill?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member is the one who is confused. It is quite normal to vote at second reading stage to refer a bill to committee in order to learn more about the bill. I am not going to apologize for our open-mindedness, because that is one of our party's strong suits.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's intervention on this issue. He is doing a great job on the international trade committee and thinks very thoughtfully about these issues.

I wonder if he would talk about why it is so important for this country to be entering these trade negotiations with some thought about the kinds of conditions and the kind of message of the way we want to work and walk on this earth. How do we want to be perceived by other countries? What kind of good can we do if we understand those things when we begin to negotiate a trade deal?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, a commercial exchange is just like any other human exchange. It should be done with respect and with consideration for the conditions in which the citizens of the other country find themselves.

I would like to add something. The United States and Jordan signed a free trade agreement that was supported by the vast majority of unions in the United States. There were clauses in the agreement that protected workers' rights and, in that case, the Government of Jordan did not comply with those clauses.

In this situation, we must ensure that there is a solid commitment from both governments, because through this relationship, which is not always equitable, we must protect human rights.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-24, 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.

However, before I do that I will take a moment to share with the House my meeting yesterday evening with the participants in the Forum for Young Canadians. I met with a number of young people from across this country and I can tell this House that our country has a bright future. These young people were very much tuned into the issues that we are discussing in this House and issues that matter to Canadians. We talked about the budget, the economy, health care, crime prevention and many more subjects. These young people were very well-informed about the issues that we discuss in this House.

I want to acknowledge those young people who I met last night. I met with Liane Hewith, a grade 12 student from Vancouver Quadra; Bronwyn Vaisey, a grade 9 student from Port Moody Gleneagle Secondary School; and Faythe Lou, a grade 11 student from Kwantlen Park Senior Secondary from my riding of Surrey North.

Indeed, Canada does have a bright future.

Today, because of the meeting last night, I am more committed as a parliamentarian to work harder to create opportunities for young people, such as the ones I met last night.

I will now move on to speak to the free trade agreement and talk about some of the basic principles of this trade deal, in other words, what should be a framework for Canada when we start these trade negotiations with other countries.

First, we should pursue a multilateral approach based on a fair and sustainable trade model. In fact, bilateral trade deals amount to protectionist trade deals since they give preferential treatment to a few partners and exclude others. This puts countries with smaller economies in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis larger partners. A multilateral fair trade deal model avoids these issues, while protecting human rights and the environment.

The Canadian government needs to have a vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy. Canada's trade policy should be based on principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade that builds trading partnerships with other countries that support principles of social justice and human rights, while also expanding business opportunities.

In free trade agreements involving countries, such as Panama, we have the opportunity to better the human rights situation within that country. When will the Conservatives start putting the concerns of everyday people before those of big businesses? Fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought, of trade negotiations.

The NDP on this side of the House strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country, one that includes, within an overall fair trade strategy, the following points: first, providing a comprehensive, common-sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates that the trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industries. The government does not sign any trade agreements that would lead to net job losses for Canadian families.

Second, ensuring that the trade agreements Canada negotiates support Canada's sovereignty and freedom to chart its own policy, support our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage and support the principles of a multilateral fair trade system.

The third point is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

The fourth point is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.

The fifth point is that any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation be subject to a binding vote on whether to accept the terms of the agreement. The current system, which consists of tabling FTAs in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification is neither mandatory nor does it bind the government to a decision of the House.

The points that I have just highlighted should be the guiding principles for negotiations for any free trade agreements.

In this agreement, I did not see the Conservative government use any of those principles. Rather, it appears to be once again resorting to making up facts to suit its interests rather than looking out for the interests of Canadians.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement is another marginally improved copy of the George Bush style approach to trade. It still puts businesses and big corporations ahead of everyday working-class people, it has no effective enforcement of human rights and it pays lip service to environmental protection without any real tough measures or dispute resolution mechanisms.

It is another one of those NAFTA copycat agreements that were initially negotiated and designated for trade between highly industrialized countries. However, Panama is not a highly industrialized country. This trade deal would not help Panama grow substantially nor would it increase the standard of living for its citizens. Instead, it would increase the role and incentive for exploitation by multinational corporations and inequality at a far greater pace and scale than in the case of NAFTA.

Another factor is that Panama is not a major trading partner of Canada. Two-way merchandise trade between the two countries reached only $149 million in 2008, which is less than 1%.

According to the United States department of justice and other entities, Panama is a major financial conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers' money laundering activities. That is a major concern that has been raised by the opposition in the House and in committee. The issue of tax havens also needs to be considered when we enter into these sorts of agreements. The government needs to consider more than the dollar value of the contract that it is entering into.

This is yet another trade deal negotiated in record time, without any consultation with trade unions, environmental groups, civil society or any citizen of the country. A fair and sustainable deal would not just address the needs of business but also the needs of working families and the environment.

The trade agreement does not provide investors and labour with a level playing field. While, under chapter 11, investors have the right to seek binding arbitration that they can pursue independently, a trade union in Panama does not get to pursue a case to arbitration. It can file a complaint that would lead to an investigation or report but it is up to the government to seek remedies and damages.

Empirical evidence strongly suggests that the minister of the day will not pursue the matter. The trade agreement includes enforceable protections of patents, trademarks and copyrights but no meaningful protection of workers and no meaningful protection of the environment.

Rather than imposing a one size fits all model, convenient to the U.S. finance system, and helping transnational corporations and repressive governments play off workers in different countries, we must recognize that different countries choose different development strategies and must be allowed to pursue fair and sustainable trade.

I want to urge my colleagues in the Conservative government to put the interests of Canadian families first before the interests of big corporations and their friends when it comes to signing free trade agreements around the world.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member talked about the amount of business that Canada does now with Panama. As the member knows, the trade minister flies around the world a lot and the Conservatives actually believe that when they enter into a discussion it is as if they have a deal. However, when it comes to results, the results of the trade deals are just illusions in the minister's mind.

What does the member see here? We have solid agreements. We have solid trade in Korea, which is a billion dollar market for the pork and beef industry, and the minister keeps ignoring that market while trying to find new ones. The United States has imposed buy American on us and we are falling back in that particular market. Would it not be more important that the minister find some balance and concentrate on the markets that we already have and hold them, as well as finding these new ones, because they are not all that the minister tries to add them up to be?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt in the NDP's mind that we need to negotiate trade agreements around the world. Trade is an essential part of today's economies, but trade must be fair and equitable. Human rights and the environment must be taken into consideration.

I would have to agree with the Liberal member that the Conservatives do not seem to have a strategy in place as to how they will negotiate trade. On the one hand, he is absolutely right that the Minister of International Trade is on a mission flying around the world to negotiate these trade agreements in a hurry, but he is not taking into consideration some of the fundamental values Canadians would like to have included as part of those agreements, such as protection of the environment and the rights of workers. Canada can take a leadership role around the world with respect to the environment, human rights and the rights of workers.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Paulina Ayala Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague ended his speech by talking about Canadian families. I would like to ask him about the outcome. We are already familiar with the negative impact of these agreements: plant closures in Montreal and throughout Canada, employees threatened with having their jobs moved elsewhere, violation of legal agreements, and so forth. Has anything positive come out of these agreements?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, trade agreements are a reality and we need to negotiate them with other countries.

What I find really troubling is that we have seen from the Conservatives over and over that when the facts do not fit their strategy or where they want to go, they create their own facts.

Canada could be a world leader in negotiating trade agreements and influencing some fundamental issues, such as human rights, workers' rights, and the environment. We have a chance to take a leadership role in those areas, yet the Conservatives seem not to want to do that. They do not have a clear policy on how they want to negotiate trade deals and with which countries. It seems to be done piecemeal, a little at a time. There is no clear strategy on their part to negotiate these trade deals.