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 trade.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

June 19th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, in my answer in question period, I listed the free trade agreements. In my excitement, I mentioned Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is under NAFTA, not under a free trade agreement. I just wanted to correct that.

We do have one with Costa Rica, however, and I forgot Israel.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege being raised by the hon. Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Alleged Usurpation of Title
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Labrador
Newfoundland & Labrador

Conservative

Peter Penashue Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today on a question of privilege. I believe my ability to carry out my duties as a member of Parliament has been impeded.

Specifically, it has been brought to my attention that the individual who preceded me as the member for Labrador, Todd Russell is publicly maintaining that he is the current MP for Labrador. Currently on Mr. Russell's website, www.toddrussell.ca, there are numerous offending pages.

Although I provided printouts of the offending pages with my letter notifying you, Mr. Speaker, of this question of privilege, I would be prepared to table the links and a complete package of those pages, but Mr. Russell's website is not in both official languages.

I have contacted Mr. Russell on this matter and requested that he remove the inappropriate use of the website title. He has not removed these references.

This action impedes my ability to fulfill my parliamentary duties and responsibilities as the actual member of Parliament for Labrador. As such, I believe it should be considered a prima facie breach of privilege.

O'Brien and Bosc, page 111, notes “the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament” as being among the matters found to be prima facie cases of privilege.

On page 113 of O'Brien and Bosc, we learn about two previous cases when Mr. Speaker Bosley and Mr. Speaker Milliken found the usurpation of the title of MP to be a matter of privilege. I will read those passages into the record:

The misrepresentation of someone who is not a sitting Member as a Member of Parliament has been found to constitute a prima facie case of privilege on two occasions. On May 6, 1985, Speaker Bosley ruled that there was a prima facie question of privilege in a case where a newspaper advertisement identified another person as a Member of Parliament rather than the sitting Member. He stated:

It should go without saying that a Member of Parliament needs to perform his functions effectively and that anything tending to cause confusion as to a Member's identity creates the possibility of an impediment to the fulfilment of that Member's functions. Any action which impedes or tends to impede a Member in the discharge of his duties is a breach of privilege.

In 2004, a similar question of privilege was raised concerning a booklet published in connection with a fundraising event and which contained an advertisement identifying a former Member of Parliament as the sitting Member for the riding. The matter was found to be a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Although the two previous cases related to print advertisements, a misleading Internet presence should be treated in the same manner.

Mr. Russell's misleading website, including contact information for his parliamentary office and three constituency offices, could cause confusion among the constituents of Labrador and, therefore, impede me in my ability to represent them.

I would ask for Mr. Russell to update his website immediately.

The leader of the Liberal Party needs to explain why he has allowed one of his party's former MPs to deliberately confuse my constituents, saying that he is their MP when the voters of Labrador have rejected him and his party.

I believe that the evidence shows this is a prima facie case of privilege. If the Chair so finds, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Alleged Usurpation of Title
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's point of privilege. There have been many cases in the past where it has been found to be a breach of a member's privilege when someone suggests that he or she is the member of Parliament when he or she is not, regardless of whether it is a former member of Parliament, some other constituent or a Canadian.

I would remind the Conservative Party that it did the same thing in my riding when the member for Cariboo—Prince George assigned a go-to person and inferred that the people in my particular riding should not go to their member of Parliament because they had chosen wrong in the last election. I am using his words not mine.

We need to be consistent in our application of this rule from all sides and that when a member of Parliament is elected he or she must be allowed to do his or her work with no cloud presented as to who the representative is.

This practice has been done previously by the government but it has stopped doing it, partly because of the public outcry. However, in this case, if what my friend from Labrador is saying is true, then we would seek those documents as well.

I think, Mr. Speaker, you will be urged to find a prima facie case of privilege because it prevents the member from doing his elected duties for the people there.

Alleged Usurpation of Title
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank both hon. members for their interventions. I will look into the matter and get back to the House in due course.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to discuss Bill C-24 to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

First, I would like to point out that, once more, this motion is subject to time allocation. This is the 25th time this year that we have had to put up with a motion of that kind.

I am going to make a somewhat lengthy comment about the level of absurdity that this Parliament has reached by being constantly constrained by the party in power. This week—actually for two weeks—we have watched the heights of contempt for this Parliament being scaled with Bill C-38. The Conservatives refused to split up a budget bill of more than 400 pages that has impacts on all kinds of departments: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Agri-Food, not to mention Human Resources and Skills Development because of the employment insurance issue that affects fisheries and tourism and that got a very poor reception from most Canadians. The provincial governments are angry. Another concern, and not the least of them, is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

All of this is in a huge bill on which we were muzzled. The hon. members opposite are constantly throwing numbers at Canadians: 50 hours, 70 hours. Those numbers cannot really be weighed by someone who is not in the House. They do not accurately reflect the time that members would normally have required to share information and hear from witnesses in committee on such dense bills, had the work of Parliament been respected by the current government in this House.

Another aspect of Bill C-38 is completely mind-boggling. Just thinking that we were muzzled on it is astounding. There were decisions to eliminate organizations. Division 33 of part 4 repeals the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act and allows the government to take the necessary measures to do away with the centre. We are gagged on fundamental issues dealing with the elimination of organizations that have been very important to the development of Canadian policies.

On the Experimental Lakes Area, Mr. Del Giorgio, a professor of biology, said:

This is a disaster of proportions...that are hard to describe. It is not just the Canadian scientific community that is completely outraged; people from all over the world are sending petitions.

The government is shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area, not just slashing its budget.

For two weeks, we were simply gagged on that as well.

Here we are with Bill C-24 before us, a free trade agreement. This is not some minor information that can just slip through. This is a potential free trade agreement with a country in the Americas. That is important. Has this bill received unanimous support? If the bill had unanimous support, we could perhaps better understand why a gag order was imposed again, but no, we have before us a bill that does not have unanimous support.

Todd Tucker, from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, has conclusively demonstrated that Panama is one of the worst tax havens in the world and that the Panamanian government has deliberately allowed the country to become a tax haven.

Despite requests from the Canadian government, Panama refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This point is very important. At some point during the whole free trade agreement process with Panama, the Canadian government asked for a tax information exchange agreement. Why? First, Panama has some serious problems with illegal money and money laundering associated with illegal drugs.

There is something I do not get at all. There are members here who brag about being tough on crime. They are in the middle of negotiating with a small Latin American country that has a serious money laundering problem associated with drugs and, suddenly, it is no big deal.

The Conservatives want to be tough on crime with a 16-year-old kid who makes the mistake of growing a few pot plans in his basement, but they do not have the courage to apply their own tough on crime logic, in an international agreement, to a problem as serious as money laundering associated with drugs. That makes no sense at all.

My NDP colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster moved a motion to stop the implementation of a trade agreement between Canada and Panama until Panama agrees to sign a tax information exchange agreement. This motion was rejected by the Liberals and the Conservatives. But in light of this situation, it made sense to resolve this issue first. Other countries, including the United States, that came to agreements with Panama signed similar agreements.

I will repeat, because this is a very important point. Why did a so-called tough on crime government disregard the very idea of a tax information exchange agreement that could have covered all types of trade agreements? This could have perhaps covered the problems related to money laundering. How could this have been excluded from the negotiations and not remain central to the agreement? I do not understand it.

This is not a unanimous bill, and so it is not a bill that should be muzzled. Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress testified that although the minimum labour standards of the International Labour Organization are cited, the agreement is still weaker than it should be. Moreover, as Ms. Healy pointed out, the current Panamanian government has become increasingly tough on unions and workers in recent years.

Some things having to do with workers' rights and fundamental human rights have not yet been resolved.

Muzzling debate about Bill C-24 amounts to muzzling debate on tax evasion and workers' rights. This is not trivial; it is really not trivial.

Panama is not Norway. You need to show a good dose of bad faith to throw the name Panama in the middle of existing agreements with northern European countries. That is what I heard two or three times from colleagues on the opposite side of the House. You cannot put Panama on the same list as Norway and Switzerland without showing bad faith.

A fair trade policy can be realistic. For instance, from the beginning of our discussions with emerging countries, we should demand standards regarding human rights and tax ethics that are in line with Canadian standards. It would be simple. We would not have any surprises or any appendices to add at the end, but rather just the fundamental principle whereby all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights. We should be talking about this from the beginning, imposing it, and prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any products considered to have been manufactured in deplorable conditions that do not meet international standards. This notion should be imposed at every stage of the negotiation process. Ensuring that all trade agreements respect sustainable development is a notion that this government cannot seem to grasp or assimilate.

The agreement includes side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. These side agreements are not in the main body of the text. Someone probably suddenly realized that a bare minimum should be done in order for this to be acceptable. Why is it not simply in the main body of the text?

More than one-third of Panamanians live in dire poverty. Free trade agreements should guarantee that better living conditions and working conditions will result from the agreements, rather than the potential exploitation of the poverty there. Although the agreement appears to protect the environment on the surface, it does not include any really strong measures or any mechanisms to resolve disputes.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, which someone mentioned earlier, Panama is a major financial conduit for drug trafficking and money laundering activities. Under those conditions, there is no way anyone can guarantee a better way of life for the people of Panama.

Trade between Canada and Panama is currently worth $150 million. Why the urgency, especially since we already do $150 million worth of trade with this trading partner? How can the Conservatives justify ramming another free trade agreement down our throats as quickly as possible, using another closure motion, when the agreement does not even ensure that Panamanian tax laws will not encourage tax evasion?

I congratulate the government on one thing: in this agreement, Canada has kept over-quota tariffs on supply managed goods such as dairy, poultry and egg products. That is very good.

What is deplorable about this bill is the failure to address human rights and tax evasion. I have been talking about this from the beginning. Every time we fail to address such fundamental issues in our international agreements, we somewhat deride the work of our most courageous predecessors in Canada. They struggled to move the country forward, while constantly working to improve our fundamental rights. We must never lose sight of that.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House today and talk about the Canada-Panama labour co-operation part of the agreement in Bill C-24, which is a very positive initiative. It started many years ago, but even in January of this year our Minister of Labour visited Panama to talk about labour co-operation and discuss labour related issues. She met with government officials and people in business. She took the trip to support the free trade agreement but specifically to discuss labour related provisions. As we all know, our Minister of Labour is very much a supporter of having good labour relations and ensuring those conditions are in place so people can continue to work.

Our government is proud of its journey of bringing into place a number of free trade agreements. We are a free trade country. We have products that we need to export to other countries and we do that by partnering with other countries. However, we also need to ensure that we coordinate our labour issues with those countries. If we do that and work with our partners on a trade agreement, then obviously it becomes a potential benefit for Canadians.

As free trade agreements are signed and brought forward, they will bring forward many preferential investment opportunities. Many of those, through trade, will reach out into many aspects of the commodities that we have in Canada. However, we also want to ensure we protect the environment and those investments in it, along with labour. As we know, economic advancements cannot be made at the cost of labour rights.

It will be in interesting when the free trade agreement comes into force because Panama's trade tariffs sit at over 90% for Canadian exports going to that country. We hope that many of those tariffs will be eliminated. That is good news for all Canadian companies that export into that market.

For service providers to gain access, we need to help expand Panama's communications, technology and financial services markets. There is also a chapter that ensures there are rules that will govern Canadian investments to give greater protection and predictability to Canadian investors who are looking to invest into Panama, which will encourage companies to invest and help strengthen Panama's economy.

The free trade agreement also gives Canadian exporters of goods and services greater market access. That access goes into Panama's government procurement opportunities, one of the few that are available to it. One example that we know of is the Panama Canal expansion process that is happening or about to happen. It is one of the U.S. $5.3 billion worth of investment projects that will widen and make export and trade more accessible. It gives Canadian companies a procurement opportunity for products, whether it is Canadian goods and services, that they will be able to bid on.

When we talk about trade and economic growth, the goal is rationale, which we talk about within our economic action plan. We believe it is a part of free trade. It is more than just a philosophy. It is a key element of our economic policy and our relationships with other countries.

Quite honestly, this recession was the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s and many countries around the world are still struggling through it wishing they had the same economic stability and governance that Canada does. It has intensified our negotiations with other countries so that we will be able to partner with them to help them and ourselves become stronger in our economy and labour rights. We are doing that particularly in the discussion today around Panama.

How do those opportunities for Canadian exporters actually happen?

Panama is a strategic hub logistically. It is a platform on which Canada can build on. It will allow commercial activity to grow through Central America, the Caribbean and the Andean region of South America. It brings in a great global perspective for trade. However, free trade is also about having a level playing field where Canadian businesses can compete in the Panamanian market.

In these challenging economic times, it is important than ever to build solid trade relationships with countries around the world to secure our future prosperity. Canada is committed to pursuing initiatives that will help Canadians compete in global markets, and Panama is one of those markets.

I will now talk about the importance of labour rights. As Canadians, we naturally want to see our country prosper and continue to prosper, but not at any price. We are eager to advance our trade agenda but we must also ensure that labour rights and obligations are respected. Prosperity cannot come at the expense of labour rights. This is a concession that we are simply not willing to make. We will not accept this free trade agreement nor any other accord without the proper concessions in place. As I said, we will ensure a level playing field and that means that everybody must play by the same rules.

There is also a labour co-operation agreement, which is why the free trade agreement with Panama is paralleled with a labour co-operation agreement. This agreement includes the enforcement of labour rights and a transparent complaints and dispute resolution mechanism.

Under the terms of the labour co-operation agreement, Canada and Panama have committed to ensuring that their laws respect and embody the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The declaration covers the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace.

It sounds a lot like the same labour standards that we uphold in this great country of Canada. However, it also demonstrates the government's belief that prosperity cannot come at the expense of workers' rights.

In the Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement, both countries have committed to protect workers' health and safety on the job, as well as to provide compensation in cases of work -related injuries or illnesses. Both countries have also committed to establishing and maintaining minimum employment standards.

The fact that the Government of Canada is helping Panama address these issues speaks well of Canada. We are recognized as a country that is compassionate. We do what we say we will do and we trade with honest intent.

Businesses that treat their workers decently are more likely to attract skilled and productive employees, just like businesses that treat their customers well are likely to have better sales.

We have a reputation for honesty, integrity and reliability. We keep our promises and we play by the rules. We want to help build a Canada-Panama relationship to that same extent.

, I would encourage the members opposite to support Bill C-24, not only for Canada but also to help build a strong partnership with our colleagues in Panama. We want to strengthen Canada's economy, a foundation for future trade and opportunities to promote and ensure fair, productive and safe workplaces that will benefit both countries.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for pointing out at least some effort to address labour and environmental issues in this proposed trade agreement with Panama.

What is so regrettable is that supposedly this agreement is premised on what was learned from our negotiations and implementation of the NAFTA. I want to share with members a provision in NAFTA that says, “it is inappropriate to encourage investment by relaxing domestic health, safety and environmental measures”.

What kind of measures are we suggesting to Panama about how seriously we treat our trade agreements formed with other nations? We already violated that agreement in this House yesterday by downgrading Canadian environmental laws for an economic advantage.

Therefore, can the member give assurances to this House that this time around, in this agreement, we will provide the language and we will live up to our obligations and commitments in the trade agreement to protect the environment?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, we all need to understand how important the environment is, not only to Canada but also to the people in Panama. When we have businesses going there, they must not only follow the labour agreements that both countries have signed but they must also help to raise the bar to ensure, in the environmental aspects of what they are doing, whether it is in mining or in agriculture initiatives, that they become better environmentalists and hopefully reach the high standards that we have in Canada. I do not believe those agreements will be violated, not when they have been signed and agreed to by both Panama and Canada.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech on this proposed agreement with Panama and I was encouraged to hear him talk about the importance of labour laws and the importance of respecting those laws in other countries.

There has been a considerable amount of criticism that for the labour unions in other countries these laws are not respected. Could the member just elaborate and tell this House the importance of that to this government and why we will continue to move in that direction?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, part of why the whole Canada–Panama labour co-operation agreement has been signed between both countries is that we recognized that, while there will likely continue to be some issues around corruption and around the labour issues, the intent of any agreement is to help build a country's economic strength, its rule of law and its respect for workers so we do not have child labour and workers have the right of association to form unions. We agree with that. It has been found that when we come alongside those countries and give them open opportunity in those areas where they are weak, they then become better stewards of those areas.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, if it is the case that there are some data that trade agreements do have the effect of raising labour and environmental standards, why did the member's government refuse to put in those kinds of evaluation efforts in agreements like the recent Jordan agreement? Could the member share with this House the data he has seen that show that trade agreements do have that positive effect? I think all members would agree that is a good objective but I am not so sure that the data are clear to support him.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague and I sit on the international trade committee, and I have great respect for him.

Even in Canada, if we have people in dire straits in poverty, if we give them the opportunity for a job, to raise their social status or to provide better for their family, then those relationships become stronger. I do not think that relationship with families is any different than when we deal with other countries on trade agreements.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to highlight the benefits of the free trade agreement with Panama.

With one in five Canadian jobs generated through international trade, our government's pro-trade plan is essential to bringing continued prosperity to Canadians. At the same time, when Canadian businesses are faced with tough global economic challenges, the benefits that the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will provide are tremendously important for our economy.

Our government is consistently demonstrating that its top priorities are jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. That is why we embarked upon the most ambitious trade plan in Canadian history.

To this end, since 2006, Canada has concluded new free trade agreements with nine countries: Colombia, Jordan, Peru, the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, most recently with Honduras and Panama. We are negotiating with many more, including the European Union.

Our government understands, as do Canadians, that expanding our trade and investment ties around the world will help create new jobs and opportunities for hard-working Canadians from every region of our country.

Today I would like to focus on how Panama fits within our Americas strategy as part of discussions on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Panama is already a significant trading partner for Canada, with two way trade totalling over $235 million in 2011. In addition, it is an established market for our country's exporters and presents significant opportunities for Canadian businesses. Canada's exporters, investors and service providers are calling for these kinds of opportunities. Entrepreneurs want access to global markets and Canada's businesses can compete and win against the very best in the world.

Let me now turn to how this agreement fits within our government's Americas strategy, which was announced as a government priority in 2007 and was renewed in March, 2012.

The renewal seeks to maximize Canada's engagement by aligning priorities and leveraging Canadian strengths in areas where Canada can have the highest impact. The three goals of the renewed strategy are: first, increase Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity; second, address security issues and advance freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law through capacity building; and third, build a stable foundation for Canada's engagement and increased influence in the hemisphere.

As a member of the international trade committee, it is clear to me that stronger economic ties are becoming increasingly important with the uncertainty in the global economy. Expanding Canada's trade and investment in the Americas will help protect existing jobs and create new jobs and increased prosperity for Canadians. Canada's efforts to increase economic opportunities centre on deepening commercial ties by advancing our trade agreements.

The Americas is the most successful region for recent Canadian bilateral trade initiatives, with 7 of Canada's 10 concluded free trade agreements being with countries in the Americas. To maximize the benefits flowing from these agreements, the Americas strategy recognizes the need to make Canadian companies aware of the advantages and opportunities that they create. Increased engagement through trade and commercial economic ties is one of the best ways to support positive change and growth in the Americas. Advancing freer trade in the Americas opens new doors of opportunity for Canadian companies, increasing economic benefits for Canadians, including increased jobs and prosperity.

Canada's strategic push to liberalize trade with the Americas is working. We are removing barriers and facilitating two-way commerce. The Americas offer great potential. Total trade growth between countries in the Americas and Canada has increased by 39.5%, from 2005 to 2010. In order to continue to increase economic opportunity, the renewed Americas strategy will focus on intensifying trade promotion and relationship building efforts to ensure that the Canadian private sector is taking full advantage of the trade and economic agreements that are and continue to be put in place.

As part of increasing economic opportunity with Panama, Canada is committed to a strong economic partnership that will contribute to enhanced prosperity in both our countries.

Tools, such as this free trade agreement and its parallel labour and environment agreements, will promote commercial exchange, while building a winning advantage for our companies, especially in natural resource management.

I want to take a moment to pay special tribute to His Excellency Francisco Carlo Escobar Pedreschi, the former Panamanian ambassador to Canada, for all of his efforts and his strong support of this renewed and expanded free trade agreement.

To enable and protect Canadian trade and commercial investments, the security situation in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean must be taken into consideration and has rightly been made a core focus in the renewed Americas strategy.

In recognizing its security challenges, Panama has significantly increased spending on public security and has committed to the reform of security institutions. Panama continues to foster strong security co-operation with the United States and has demonstrated a willingness to co-operate with Central American neighbours under the Central American integration system regional security strategy.

Canada is pleased with the significant efforts that Panama is making to meet the challenges posed by organized crime and its efforts to exercise leadership in confronting the public security threats facing Central America.

In a region where relationships are fundamental to success, long-term and multi-faceted engagement is a vital part of Canada's Americas strategy. Competition for market share is on the rise and Canada must demonstrate that it is a serious and committed partner.

The engagement of the Prime Minister, our ministers and seniors officials has been central to this effort. While sustaining high level engagement will be essential, Canada will benefit from building relationships more broadly across the private sector, government, academia, civil society and people to people.

All countries in the region have a vested interest in prosperity, security and stability. That is why it is so important for us to build and sustain relationships with our like-minded hemisphere neighbours.

Through our strong bilateral relationships and the increasing people-to-people networks generated through educational exchanges, increased tourism and business links, our ties with Panama are growing stronger every day and we are seeing an increase in the opportunities for Canadian companies.

With 60% of our GDP dependent on trade, it is clear that jobs and communities across Canada depend on trade with other countries. Through increased access to export markets for Canadian businesses, we are supporting economic growth in Canada and creating new opportunities, jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadians.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement and the parallel labour co-operation and environment agreements are key components to advancing the goals of the Americas strategy. I ask all members for their support.