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.

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[For continuation of proceedings see part B]

[Continuation of proceedings from part A]

The House resumed consideration of the motion that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that the question be now put.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
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6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Leeds—Grenville has six minutes left to conclude his remarks.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
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6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before I was interrupted for private members' business, what has been the result of these initiatives for Canadians? In recent years, bilateral trade between Canada and Panama has been steadily growing. From just under $50 million in total trade in 2002, we are up to a total of $235 million per year by 2011.

We are now in 15th position as a supplier of goods to Panama, and much of this is very diversified and includes pork, vegetables and vegetable preparations, vegetable oils, industrial machinery, electrical and electronic machinery, motor vehicles including ambulances, ships and tugboats for the Panama Canal, paper products, pharmaceutical products, iron and steel products, coins and precious stones and metals.

Meanwhile, we are now Panama's second most important market for exports, which include gold, fish and seafood, fruits and nuts, mainly bananas and pineapple, and coffee.

Canadian companies have also demonstrated a recent interest in Panama as an investment destination. The stock of Canadian direct investment abroad in Panama was estimated at $121 million by Statistics Canada at the end of 2010, and Scotiabank established itself in Panama in 1973 and has expanded to become the fifth largest commercial bank in Panama.

However, it is in the mining sector where Canada is now poised to play its most visible role as a commercial partner for Panama. According to public sources, the book value of assets owned by Canadian mining companies in Panama in 2010, which is the last year for which data is available, was $658.7 million.

The government of Panama has ably steered the economy through the global downturn with a stimulus package of large, strategic projects that aim to maintain employment levels, address gaps in social development infrastructure and transform Panama into a world class logistics hub.

Going forward, the completion of the Panama Canal expansion must surely rank as one of the most dynamic undertakings in the Americas. We have already seen some Canadian participation in this venture, a contract to analyze the lifespan of the concrete, for example.

The government's ambitious infrastructure development plan includes the metro public transportation project and the building and improvement of the national network of roads, airports, hospitals and ports.

Education, energy and the environment also feature prominently in this program, much of which will be materially assisted by the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank.

Panama's strong commercial banking, insurance and service sectors, along with its achievement of an investment grade rating, lend credence to projections that the country will continue to be a lead performer in the region. According to the World Bank, Panama ranks highest in Central America in terms of the ease of doing business.

Canada wants to be part of this exciting program that would contribute to the welfare of all Panamanians. We need this free trade agreement now, not only to help maintain this pace of growth but to protect our existing base, since Panama has already been out there, being aggressive and going after bilateral programs and trade agreements, which already benefit many of our competitors, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Mexico, and shortly will also benefit the United States and the European Union as well.

I strongly endorse our government's pro-trade, pro-jobs agenda that we are pursuing as we pursue many different trade agreements throughout the world. Canada is a trading country.

Jobs in my riding of Leeds—Grenville are heavily dependent on trade with the United States and with other countries around the world. We are located on all of the major corridors, whether it be the main rail route through Canada or the main road infrastructure through Highway 401, and we are also located right on the St. Lawrence Seaway with the Port of Prescott. All of these things help jobs in my riding of Leeds—Grenville.

This is yet another opportunity for our country to conclude a trade agreement with another country that would help create jobs here in Canada, as well as open up another market for many of our producers here in Canada.

I encourage all members to support this important trade bill. I look forward to it being passed in the very near future.

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6:35 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague across the way for his speech.

In the last few minutes, he mentioned the extent to which trade is important, especially for the people in our ridings. I think that it is beneficial for most people in all regions of Canada to be able to trade with other countries. For example, several business owners in my riding of Alfred-Pellan are small-scale importers–exporters and rely heavily on trade. I agree with him on this point.

However, I agree less on others, especially when it comes to the fact that no tax information exchange agreement has been signed with Panama. It is a little strange. All that has been signed with Panama, in terms of taxation, is a convention on double taxation. Only legitimate revenue is traceable, and not illegitimate revenue, which would be traceable under a tax information exchange agreement based on OECD data.

Why has this not been included in the free trade agreement, especially given that Panama enters into this kind of agreement with other countries, just like Canada does?

Canada has this kind of agreement with the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, and Panama has one with the United States. So why do we not have something that is so key to our economy?

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6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question, but my question is this: if members are representing ridings that are heavily dependent on trade for their jobs, why are these members on the opposite side not standing in support of these free trade agreements?

We know they have opposed every single trade agreement. There was some division on whether they supported the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement.

In any event, directly to the question the member asked about the financial issues, the bill would in fact have a section and a chapter of comprehensive rules governing investment, and the rules would provide great protections and predictability for Canadian investors in their investments in Panama.

I think the bill does address the issues that the hon. member is concerned about, and I would hope she would in fact support this bill because she even said it is important for jobs in her riding.

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6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent presentation.

I want my colleague to try to square this for me. The NDP is a party that claims to be for workers, yet it does so much that kills jobs, quite frankly. As an example, it is against the expansion of the oil sands. It is against almost every major natural resources project developed in this country. It is against the pipeline to the west coast, which would add $30 a barrel, probably, to the price of oil. It is also against free trade, yet these things all create a lot of jobs. In fact, the free trade agreements, I think, together created about 30% of all the jobs in Canada. However, it wants to kill those jobs.

I would like the member to comment upon the importance of free trade agreements and jobs.

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6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member who has stated very clearly his understanding of how important it is for resource development here in Canada and the jobs it creates. It not only creates jobs in the province of Alberta. This has been an argument, that it only creates jobs in Alberta. It creates jobs across Canada. It creates manufacturing jobs in machinery and other sectors in Ontario, for example, which is the province I am from, and there are so many jobs that are dependent upon manufacturing.

I do not understand how the members on the other side can stand there and actually oppose these free trade agreements that would create jobs. They say they want to improve the quality of life in their ridings for their constituents. Here is an opportunity for them to stand up to help create those jobs, create the free trade agreements that would create those jobs and make life better for everyone here in Canada.

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6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members know, the Liberal Party is very supportive of free and fair trade, frankly, so we do support this agreement in principle. However, I have a question. I wonder to what extent the member opposite has investigated the effectiveness of any collateral agreements, with respect to the environment.

I know that the member for Kings—Hants, several years ago, was able to have one of those collateral agreements respecting labour and the environment attached to the Colombia free trade agreement. I also understand that we are having difficulty overseeing the effectiveness of that agreement and undertaking the proper investigations to make sure it is being complied with.

I ask the member what degree of satisfaction he has with the content of any of these collateral agreements and their actual enforceability.

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6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged that the Liberal Party is supporting these free trade efforts. In fact, over the last number of years it has supported them. It is the NDP that has opposed every single trade agreement that has come before this House.

In terms of the parallel agreements, there is one on the environment and one on labour co-operation. If we do these types of agreements and we continue to work with these countries, we are in a much better position to help ensure that these sorts of things are enforced, rather than walking away and not being engaged with these countries.

The benefits to Canada for these types of agreements are large. They create jobs throughout Canada. They help in our ridings and improve the employment situation. I am encouraged that the Liberal Party is in fact—

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6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.

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6:40 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admit that I rise today in this House with a certain amount of anxiety to state my views concerning Bill C-24, an act to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Obviously, this legislation is very important for the people of Canada and Panama. If it is enacted, there will be many lasting consequences, and they will not necessarily be positive. Before telling my colleagues what I really think, however, I believe it would be a good idea to give an overview of what is really in this bill.

First, the negotiations between Canada and Panama addressed a number of major changes to trade relations between the two countries. Several points drew my attention. First, it provides that Canada would eliminate all customs duties on non-agricultural products, and the vast majority of duties on agricultural products.

The best estimates available indicate that this means that 99% of customs duties on Panamanian imports would disappear with the stroke of a pen. Over a 15-year period, once the agreement is ratified, other duties would also be gradually eliminated.

The various products that would still be subject to customs duty include dairy products, poultry and eggs, and certain products containing sugar. In return, about 90% of Canadian exports to Panama would be exempt from customs duty. Obviously, that 90% includes numerous agricultural products.

At the end of a 5- to 10-year period, it will be possible to export most agricultural products, in fact virtually all of those products, free of customs duty. Knowing that at present, Panama’s customs duties come to nearly 70% on certain agricultural products, we can understand how significant the consequences of ratifying this agreement will be for both countries.

Apart from agricultural products, there will be a series of equally important changes if the agreement is ratified in this House. Those that cause the most concern obviously include the expansion of free trade in the service sector, such as information technologies, for example, and also increased access to government contracts in both countries. The agreement also addresses other points. For example, it mentions an agreement on the environment, an agreement on labour and provisions dealing with investments.

As we can see, this agreement is very wide-ranging and will have consequences for many different spheres of society. Earlier I mentioned agriculture, the services sector, government procurement, the environment, investment and labour law. It will have major consequences.

For this reason, I believe we should think long and hard about the agreement before deciding whether or not to support it. This is what I and my party have done. We have been watching the negotiations leading to Bill C-24, which we are currently studying. We were also in attendance at the meeting of stakeholders and experts.

Our analysis of these many discussions has had a chilling effect on our support. Above all, we heard a great deal of very convincing evidence that Panama is a tax haven. According to Todd Tucker, research director at Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, Panama is home to an estimated 400,000 corporations, including many offshore corporations and multinational subsidiaries. In comparison, as just one example, this is four times the number of corporations registered in Canada. It is a number that speaks volumes.

According to the OECD, the government of Panama does not have the legal resources to efficiently verify the essential information concerning these corporations, including the information with regard to their capital structure. When we are talking about tax havens, needless to say, it is obvious that caution needs to be exercised.

This is also the reason why my colleague, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, put forward a number of amendments that would help to resolve part of this issue. Unfortunately, the Conservative government, with the support of the Liberals, refused to listen, as it was probably too blinded by its ideology and by its disregard for compromise.

Another aspect that I have serious problems with is the rights of workers. In fact, the agreement we are examining today gives no specific protection to the right of association or the right to strike. A number of stakeholders raised this issue during the consultations. There is cause for concern, especially since the fines prescribed in the event of infractions are virtually non-existent.

We must be very aware of Panama's specific context in order to see how the rights of workers will be impaired by this agreement. Recently, demonstrations and strikes were held in Panama when the government made a full frontal attack on the rights of workers. Some of the government's repressive measures included the authorization to bring in strikebreakers, an end to environmental studies for certain projects and a prohibition on collecting mandatory union dues.

During the demonstrations in Panama, the police used excessive force to suppress protests. Six demonstrators were killed during confrontations with the police and 300 union leaders were detained. This is particularly worrisome if we consider that, with the government we have right now, workers are losing more and more of their rights. I therefore do not see how it will be useful to support a free trade agreement that does not respect workers' rights. Unfortunately, the state of workers' rights in Panama is far from rosy.

We have every reason to be concerned given that the free trade agreement set out in Bill C-24 will likely make the situation worse rather than better.

Once again, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed sound and intelligent amendments to fill this gaping hole in the agreement. These amendments could have protected unionized workers by guaranteeing them the right to bargain collectively. These amendments also would have required Canada's Minister of International Trade to speak with union representatives on a regular basis, which is a healthy thing in a balanced democracy.

It is nothing, for a democratic country like Canada, to make demands when signing a free trade agreement. That seems obvious. But the government simply brushed off my colleague's suggestions, which were realistic and showed a lot of compromise.

For all of the reasons I just listed, my party and I are opposed to Bill C-24. The NDP has always opposed trade models like this one. We saw it with NAFTA. These agreements put the interests of multinational corporations ahead of the interests of workers and the environment, which is unacceptable. They also promote inequalities and erode the quality of life of people and honest workers. It is not surprising that this government is pushing so hard for this agreement. It is rather ironic, though.

The agreement we are studying today is another step in the strategy adopted by Canada and the United States, which focuses on serial bilateralism through the use of trade agreements that are unfair to honest people, as I already mentioned. For a long time, the NDP has been preparing and suggesting a multilateral approach based on a fair, sustainable model that respects the environment and workers.

I urge my House of Commons colleagues to carefully consider the consequences of passing Bill C-24. I do not think we should pass it. This agreement will not help honest workers. The government has been utterly uncompromising and has rejected all of my colleague's fitting amendments.

I will never vote in favour of such an unfair agreement.

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6:50 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech. My concern, though, was the tone of her speech, the disrespect for Panamanians, the pejorative language she used and the misinformation in calling Panama a tax haven.

The reality is that Panama was listed on the grey list, but the democratically elected Government of Panama and the Panamanian people have worked hard and Panama is no longer on that list. It is now on what is called the white list. It has been working hard to open its markets to create jobs.

Why does the NDP feel that it is in better shape to decide what is good for Panamanians?

This agreement was negotiated between the democratically elected governments of Canada and of Panama, but the NDP members seem to feel, and have the arrogance to say, that this is not a good deal and they are fighting against it. They have not stood up for any of the free trade agreements that have benefited this country. What puts the member in a position to decide what is good for Panamanians?

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6:50 p.m.

NDP

Marie-Claude Morin Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have to laugh when my colleagues challenge the facts that the NDP brings forward.

When we deliver a speech on an issue, we do our research and we present the facts. My information is not wrong. Maybe my colleague should do some fact-checking. Maybe he is a little behind on his research.

As I said before, I cannot support a bill that does not respect workers' quality of life and tramples their rights. That is all I can say in answer to the question.

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6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

It being 6:55 p.m., pursuant to an order made Thursday, June 7, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill now before the House.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that the question be now put?

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6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.