House of Commons Hansard #143 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

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my Conservative colleague why the members of his party voted against the amendment moved by my NDP colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster, who was trying to include the concept of sustainable development in the free trade agreement with Panama.

The NDP believes that economic development can go hand in hand with environmental protection and workers' right to live in safety and have well-paid jobs. That is partly what sustainable development is about.

Why did my Conservative colleagues vote against this very reasonable amendment moved by my NDP colleague?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Madam Speaker, the member opposite raises a question related to the environment. I want to ensure he is aware of the provisions within the environment sub-agreement that relate to his concern.

The agreement on the environment commits both countries to pursue high levels of environmental protection to improve and enforce their environmental laws effectively and to maintain appropriate environmental assessment procedures. It also has provisions encouraging the use of voluntary best practices for corporate social responsibility and a commitment to promote public awareness.

One last point about the environment is that it reaffirms the country's international commitment under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and to respect, preserve and maintain traditional knowledge, innovation and practice of indigenous and local communities.

It is my opinion that this side agreement goes a long way to promoting and protecting the environment.

The member also raises the concern about labour. As a member of a party which is always very concerned about labour, I want to highlight the provisions within the agreement that state that the labour co-operation agreement contains strong and enforceable provisions to protect and promote internationally recognized labour. We are talking about things like occupational health and safety, including compensation for injuries, employment standards, minimum wage—

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I see other members rising for questions and I would like to give others some opportunities for questions.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I want thank my colleague for his work on international trade issues in the committee.

My question is relatively simple. The member is from British Columbia and his activity on the international trade file has been extensive. I would like to know, from the member's perspective, what trade and international trade and free trade agreements mean to British Columbia and his community?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Madam Speaker, it has been a pleasure to serve with the member in the past.

There are two ways to look at this. We can look at the national benefits and then I will get to the regional benefits for British Columbia.

Nationally, let us not move past the point that this creates opportunities for Canadians across the country. By eliminating tariffs on non-agricultural imports, there is a huge opportunity for Canadian companies to get involved in the markets. Service providers will have expanded opportunities in the areas of information and communication technology, energy and financial services. There are rules for governing foreign investment. Canadian businesses can invest in Panama as well.

Let us keep in mind that Panama is about to expand the canal with, I believe, a $5 billion investment. I want to ensure that Canada has an opportunity to participate in that.

The member's specific question was how this would benefit the west, in beautiful British Columbia. Looking at the specifics, the tariffs that are eliminated address issues around paper and paper board, so there is the forestry industry, processed food products, milling products, machinery, pulses from other Prairie provinces and precious stones and metals of which we have a lot in British Columbia.

We can see that the spectrum with which this will impact our province is pretty large.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues from all parties who have already spoken in the course of this debate for letting us know their views.

We are debating another free trade agreement signed by this government in Central America, this time with Panama. So Panama is joining Colombia, Peru and Honduras, which have all negotiated or signed agreements with this Conservative government.

This agreement is just one more step in the Canada-United States strategy of prioritizing sequential bilateralism in the form of a NAFTA-style trade agreement. In my opinion, bilateralism is a very bad strategy. As was the case for the other agreements I have mentioned, this agreement presents problems, and that means we have a number of reasons for opposing the bill that has been introduced in this House.

This agreement presents a significant problem in terms of workers’ rights in Panama, and in fact there are no provisions in this trade agreement to ensure that Panamanian workers will not be denied their rights as they have been in the past. Two of the amendments proposed in committee by my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster would have protected unionized workers in Panama by guaranteeing them the right to bargain collectively and by forcing the Minister of International Trade, the principal representative of Canada on the joint Canada-Panama commission, to consult regularly with representatives of Canadian workers and Canadian unions.

Those amendments, like all the others, were rejected by the Conservatives and the Liberals. Unfortunately, the result is a free trade zone where workers’ rights are cheapened, something that is already a serious problem in Panama.

The fact that these reasonable amendments were rejected by both the Conservatives and the Liberals reminded me of one of the last times we saw the two parties come together on an FTA in this region. I am referring to the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It was during the last Parliament that many of my colleagues discussed and debated that agreement, eventually seeing its passage as the Liberals supported the Conservatives. However, that support came with a condition at the suggestion of the hon. member for Kings—Hants. Under that condition, each country would have to provide annual reports to their parliaments assessing the impact of the free trade agreement on human rights.

To the Liberals, this was the answer to the grievous human rights concerns that exist in Colombia. To the Liberals, this was the silver bullet, or as put another way by the member for Kings—Hants in a press release dated March 25, 2010, was the “new gold standard” for human rights reporting in free trade agreements.

With that deal in place, the Liberals signed onto the FTA and it went into force. Therefore, maybe it is appropriate timing that just last month the very first report under that agreement was published. Given what the Liberals had agreed to, we should have expected to receive a fulsome report on the human rights situation on the ground in Colombia, but what did we get instead? We got nothing, zero, nada on human rights in Colombia.

What was the excuse for this failure to report? The international trade minister told us, “the government did not have enough information to conduct a full assessment by the time it was required to submit the report to Parliament”. Seriously, that was the answer. He may as well have said that his dog ate his homework. If this is what the new gold standard is supposed to look like, then so far it looks like the Liberals were sold a big piece of fool's gold.

Under this FTA, the government is supposed to produce these reports every 12 months. How is it that it could not produce at least a preliminary report after nine months? Maybe it did not because it knew it would not be the most flattering and would create some political problems for it.

Regardless of the excuses for not reporting, the entire reporting process that was agreed to has major flaws.

First, these reports do not meet the United Nations' standard, which states that nations should complete human rights assessments before signing an FTA rather than after.

Also, this report is coming directly from the government itself, not an independent third party. We are counting on the Government of Colombia to tell us if it is violating the human rights of its own citizens. Throughout history that kind of self-reporting arrangement has never been viewed as the most credible approach, yet we are depending on it here.

But the coup de grâce really comes from the final problem with this approach, which is that under this FTA there are no negative consequences for any negative results that come from that report. So regardless of how bad the reports may be, there is not a single consequence for the Government of Colombia. How does the Conservative government expect the Government of Colombia to be motivated to improve the human rights situation in its country if it faces no consequences for not doing so?

After the Colombia FTA came into force, we saw the violence and the repression of human rights continue. Groups like MiningWatch Canada have brought forward reports from Colombia of incidents involving Canadian mining companies in Colombia, particularly regarding indigenous rights violations.

On September 2 Father José Reinel Restrepo was murdered in Marmato, Colombia. Father Restrepo just happened to be a very vocal opponent of a mining project proposed by a company based in Canada called Gran Colombia Gold Corp. Under this project his home community of Marmato would be obliterated in order to make way for an open pit mine.

There are other NGOs that have also brought forward stories and reports of human rights violations. Despite all these reports brought forward by reputable NGOs, I remind the House that the Conservative government said it “did not have enough information to conduct a full assessment by the time it was required...”. These reports seem to state otherwise.

I represent a riding where many of these same mining firms work and work well. They work with local communities and aboriginal nations to provide opportunities for the people who call our region home. I have personally negotiated many agreements with many of these companies on behalf of the Grand Council of the Cree in the past 20 years.

I have to ask myself why it is that some of these companies seem to not take this same approach when working in other countries. Maybe it is because under this FTA these companies simply do not have the obligation to do so. The Conservative government, by signing FTAs that do not truly protect human rights in these partner countries, is sending the signal that as long as they act like good corporate citizens at home, we will forget about what they do abroad. This “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” approach to corporate social responsibility is not only doing harm to communities in these other countries; it is putting a stain on the reputation of our country and the reputations of those Canadian companies that take their corporate social responsibility seriously.

The NDP believes that the federal government should stop following the NAFTA model exclusively, at the expense of other approaches. It should explore different ways of promoting trade. Our trade policy, here in Canada, should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade, trade that builds partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights, while not ignoring the need to expand our trade objectives. It is possible to have a better model, but the political will has to be there, and that is what is sorely lacking on the part of this Conservative government.

The NDP firmly believes that there is another model for trade relations, a better model, one that can be applied to Panama and any other country. That model includes the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights. There is a lot of work to be done to improve this free trade agreement with Panama. I hope the government is going to take our suggestions to heart and exchange its free trade model for our fair trade model, which is viable and realistic.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my NDP colleague for his remarks. I am glad to know that he, too, cares about the economic agreements that Canada enters into with other countries. He mentioned that it was very important to him that these agreements be sustainable and equitable.

It worries me that Canada may end up exploiting workers who live in Panama under this agreement.

Is my colleague also concerned about the potential exploitation of workers under this free trade agreement?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord for his excellent question. We also ask excellent questions on this side of the House.

It is such an important question. In all the agreements that we will have to negotiate in the future, the measures in place in these agreements must be comparable to what we have in Canada, whether in terms of the environment, human rights or labour standards. This is important, and we insist on that.

Only yesterday, I read the United Nations Human Rights Committee report. On the other side of the House, they seem to be saying that there is no problem with human rights in Panama and that there are therefore no concerns to voice in this regard. Yet, in its latest report on Panama, in paragraph 20, the Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had the following to say about child labour:

The committee notes with concern that, despite the fact that the Constitution prohibits persons under the age of 14 years from working, including as domestic workers, and despite legislative measures to prohibit the worst forms of child labour, the rate of child labour in the country continues to be high.

That is why we are concerned about this type of free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague. He raised several important and interesting issues for Canadians, including protecting the environment and the rights of workers.

I also want to mention that despite the Canadian government's requests, Panama has consistently refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This is very troubling because we know that there is currently a very high volume of money laundering activities in Panama, including laundering of money from drug trafficking. We know, therefore, that there is no transparency when it comes to taxation in Panama. Moreover, that is why the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development called Panama a tax haven.

Does my colleague have any comments to make on this issue? Should Canada proceed with a little more care when it negotiates free trade agreements? Is the process too fast?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, our credibility is at stake when we negotiate free trade agreements with countries like Panama.

The Department of Justice expressed extreme concern with regard to the money laundering situation, which is very well known in that country. Why are we going ahead with this type of free trade agreement without taking care to determine whether what is going on is really going on? What measures are being proposed in our agreements to remedy these situations?

That applies to the issues raised by my NDP colleague, but also to the environmental issues, human rights issues and right of association issues in that country, which is a matter of constant concern. We need to be able to act rigorously each time we negotiate a free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-24 , the Canada–Panama free trade agreement. This is a trade agreement that would help Canadians from all regions of the country, including the hard-working people of Calgary Northeast.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would level the playing field for Canadian businesses in Panama. As we all know, healthy Canadian businesses produce jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. Seeing as how Panama has negotiated a few free trade agreements in recent years, Canadian companies are currently at a disadvantage in Panama because many of their competitors have better market access under one of Panama's recent free trade agreements.

In March 2011, six Central American countries, including Panama, initialled an association agreement with the European Union. The agreement includes a section on trade, which will reduce tariffs on European goods such as machinery and transport equipment, goods that are also key Canadian exports to Panama.

In addition, since 2003, Panama has signed and implemented free trade agreements with Chile, Peru, Singapore and Taiwan. However, it is not just these trade agreements against which we are competing.

The United States is our friend but it is also a competitor. The U.S. signed a comprehensive free trade agreement with Panama in 2007. It has been ratified by both Panama and the U.S. and it is expected to come into force before the end of 2012. Once that agreement is brought into force, over 87% of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial goods and nearly 56% of American agriculture exports to Panama will become duty-free immediately. Canadian producers of pork, potatoes and other goods will be hard pressed to succeed in the Panamanian market if their American competitors enjoy such duty-free access while we do not.

I am sure my hon. colleagues will agree that we must take steps to maintain Canada's competitiveness in Panama. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would do just that. By removing the majority of tariff barriers faced by Canadians goods exported to Panama, this agreement would help Canadians succeed in one of Latin America's most dynamic and rapidly growing economies.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would also help Canadian companies bid competitively on major government procurement contracts, including projects related to the $5.3 billion U.S. expansion of the Panama Canal. If we in the House believe that Canadian exporters and investors are among the best in the world, we must help them prosper by ensuring that they are not disadvantaged in the Panamanian market. The opportunities are there and it is our job to help Canadians take advantage of them.

Now I will turn to the second set of benefits that the Canada-Panama free trade agreement would provide. As members know, Canada is a country of many regions. Tariff concessions under the Canada-Panama free trade agreement would make Canadian goods from every region more competitive in Panama's market, bringing economic benefits to every province.

Permit me to briefly remind the House of a few specific benefits that this agreement would have for exporters across Canada.

When I migrated to Canada, Quebec was my first home. That is where I met my wife Neetu. Our first son Jatin was born in Montreal on January 15, 1991. It is a beautiful part of Canada and a province that would benefit from this trade agreement. Quebec pork producers would enjoy immediate duty-free access to the Panamanian market. Panama's tariffs on pork currently range up to 70%.

Quebec producers of industrial and construction machinery would benefit from the immediate elimination of Panama's current tariffs, which are as high as 15%. Quebec firms in the pharmaceutical and aerospace sectors would also enjoy duty-free access to Panama. Panamanian tariffs in these sectors currently range up to 11% for pharmaceuticals, and up to 15% in the aerospace sector.

Therefore, I urge all Quebec members to stand up for Quebec producers and to vote in favour of this agreement.

In Ontario, the free trade agreement would benefit exporters through the elimination of Panama's tariffs on industrial and construction machinery. Ontario exporters of electrical and electronic equipment which currently face tariffs of up to 15% would also enjoy immediate duty-free access to the Panamanian market. Other sectors of export interest for Ontario include pharmaceuticals, chemicals and furniture. In all of these sectors, Panama will immediately eliminate its current tariffs when the free trade agreement comes into force. I know that the Leader of the Opposition likes to blame all manufacturing slowdowns on other provinces, but supporting this agreement is one real way, an easy, honest way, that the NDP can stand up for Ontario manufacturers and exporters.

In B.C., where I also lived before settling in Alberta, exporters would benefit from the immediate elimination of tariffs on goods such as paper and paperboard, processed food products and wine. Exporters in my home province of Alberta would enjoy duty-free access for industrial and construction machinery, and power-generating machinery.

In grain-growing provinces like Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, farmers of oilseeds, pulses and cereals would benefit from the immediate elimination of Panama's tariffs, some as high as 40%, on their products.

Let us jump back east. In Atlantic Canada, exporters would benefit from the immediate reduction of Panama's tariffs on paper and paperboard. Current tariffs on these products range as high as 15%.

Panama would also eliminate its tariffs on fish and seafood, which range up to 15%, and frozen french fries, which range up to 20%. As we know, french fry superstar McCain Foods is fast becoming a global player, and recently I had the pleasure of touring one of its facilities in Gujarat, India with our hard-working Minister of International Trade. Let us not stand in its path to success with Panama.

Other sectors of interest for Atlantic Canadian exporters that would receive duty-free access under the Canada-Panama free trade agreement include plastic, electrical and electronic equipment, and information and communication technology.

These represent just a few of the ways that Canadians would benefit from this free trade agreement, but before workers and businesses across Canada can take advantage of these new opportunities, we must do our part and pass Bill C-24. We live in challenging economic times, and we cannot allow Canada's competitiveness to diminish. By pursuing an aggressive bilateral trade agenda, this government is helping Canadians to compete and win in markets beyond our borders.

International trade plays a critical role in the success of our nation; 60% of our GDP and 1 in 5 jobs depend on trade. Free trade agreements, including this agreement with Panama, are necessary to help Canada maintain its current economic strength and prosperity. That is why I hope that my hon. colleagues here in the House will join me in supporting the passage of Bill C-24. It is good for constituents, it helps produce jobs and growth, and it is good for Canada.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I find that quite unbelievable. The Conservative member opposite is saying that the agreement between Panama and Canada will be good for the Quebec economy and that we need to trust the Conservative government. What I would like to ask that hon. member is whether he is trying to make me laugh.

The Conservative government negotiated a free trade agreement on softwood lumber with the United States, and regions like mine—Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean—have still not recovered from that forestry crisis. The wonderful forestry resources of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are being exported for peanuts, which is killing the regional economy when it comes to secondary and tertiary processing.

Government MPs were the ones who voted in favour of the softwood lumber free trade agreement with the United States. Now, the government wants us to trust it on the agreement with Panama. The government thinks that Quebec will come out the big winner, as will the Maritimes, Alberta, British Columbia and all Canadian provinces. Are you trying to make me laugh? Does the Conservative government think Canadians just fell off the turnip truck?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would like to thank the hon. member for correcting himself and addressing his comments to the Chair.

The hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am not kidding. I am serious that this agreement would benefit all provinces. Quebec would benefit from the elimination of Panama's tariffs on key exports such as pork, industrial and construction machinery, pharmaceuticals and aerospace products. Investment and services provisions would benefit the engineering, construction and transportation sectors in Quebec.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, of course we constantly hear the opposition opposing any kind of free trade agreement, going back to NAFTA . We in our ridings listened to the businesspeople and the workers who are employed at those businesses to find out what the real issues are on the ground. Those issues are about expanding their businesses, creating more work, getting better bonuses as a result of hard work and perseverance in terms of their ability to make contributions to Canada. Of course, free trade and expanding our markets do all that. It is totally what the opposition members are against.

In your comments today, your being from Alberta, I know you have seen many of the—