House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member cannot have it both ways. He talks about money laundering and got his information from Google. We can find just about any information we want on Google but we cannot read part of it and ignore the rest. We need to read the entire thing. If he had read the entire thing, he would have found out that Panama is no longer on the OECD grey list. It has been removed from the list because its tax agreements with other countries have improved and its transparency has improved. It is a country that is making improvements, is moving into the rest of the world and is off the money laundering list and what does the NDP want to do that country? It wants to punish it.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is funny, in fact, because they are obviously making fun of me. They are saying that I get my information from Google.

We also have people who are well-informed and work hard. We have researchers and members who are very conversant with this subject. We have no trouble finding nonsense on Google, as I know some of his colleagues do among themselves.

We must not believe everything we see on Google. He is looking at me, but let him look at me; he may as well do it and may as well make fun of me. Thank you.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time for questions and comments has expired. I would remind all hon. members to direct their comments through the Chair rather than to their colleagues.

The hon. member has 10 seconds remaining to complete his answer.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Fine, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

In fact, Panama has made efforts to meet the criteria so it would no longer be on the grey list, but the fact remains that it is refusing to sign a tax information exchange agreement. I think we are entitled to wonder about that, and they are not entitled to shove it down our throats.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, we have had copious and lengthy debate on the bill already but we will continue to debate the bill because it is an important bill for Canadian businesses, for Canadian industry, for Canadian workers and, quite frankly, for Panama.

The biggest issue for me when we look at these free trade agreements, regardless of which countries around the world we are entering into an agreement with, is that we are already trading with Panama. The NDP want us to spell it out that somehow this is a rogue nation with which no one is trading. When the Panama Canal is finished, 5% of all the containers on the world's oceans will go through the Panama Canal. That is an extremely important nation in our hemisphere. We are trading with it already. How can it hurt to put a rules based system in place so we know and can expect how our trading relationship will unfold?

I find it extremely troublesome that all the NDP members can do is find a reason not to support something, instead of looking for all of the good parts and the positive parts of this agreement.

As I said when I stood up, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-24, the legislation to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. I will spend a few moments today talking about how this agreement fits into Canada's engagement in the Americas.

Five years ago, while on a week-long tour of the Americas that included Bogota, Colombia and stops in Barbados and Haiti, the Prime Minister declared that reviving and expanding Canada's political and economic engagement in the Americas would be a major foreign policy goal of our government.

Last summer, the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade made a highly successful visit to Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras. During that visit, the Prime Minister made it clear that Canada was an active player in the hemisphere, strengthening economic ties with its partners, improving market access and promoting security, all things that I would think every member in this House could support.

Our commitment to the Americas is evident through the 175 ministerial visits to Latin America since we formed government in 2006, and the 20 countries in the Americas with which we have signed or are pursuing free trade agreements.

Canada is committed to playing an even larger role in the Americas, and doing so for the long term. Part of this commitment involves fostering closer economic ties with regional partners to promote trade, investment and prosperity across the hemisphere.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement will support job creation and economic growth in Canada and Panama, which, in turn, will contribute to advancing security and democratic governance in the region. It is an important part of our job creating free trade plan.

Our government is in the midst of the most ambitious free trade plan in Canada's history. Our government understands that one in five jobs and 60% of our GDP depends upon trade. Jobs and prosperity in communities across Canada depend on the opportunities that free trade agreements, like the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act, create.

Since 2006, we have concluded free trade agreements with nine countries and we are in negotiations with many more. That includes negotiations with the European Union and India. Just recently, the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Noda of Japan announced the launch of negotiations toward a free trade agreement that will deepen the trade and investment ties between Canada and Japan.

Free trade agreements help our businesses compete in global markets and, when our business succeed in global markets, Canadians succeed.

I will take a moment to talk about the opportunities in Panama for Canadian business, for Canadians and s for Panamanians in Canada. Panama is often referred to as the gateway to Latin America and its critical role in connecting the Latin American region also enhances the importance of a Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Panama has long been considered a logistic centre and international connection point in the Latin American region. Over the years, Panama has evolved to become the pre-eminent air transportation hub and is now ranked as having the highest air connectivity in the Americas by the International Air Transport Association. Panama is also a central point for goods travelling to Latin America, a nexus for international trade and a strategic hub for the region.

According to Panamanian estimates, 5% of the world's trade passed through the Panama Canal in 2010. The Panamanian government's large investment to expand the Panama Canal means that Panama is positioned to play an increasingly important role in the Latin American region.

Panama's unique and influential position in the global trading system is significant. It represents an entry point for the broader region thereby enabling access to neighbouring markets. A free trade agreement with this strategically positioned partner would serve as a gateway for an increased Canadian commercial presence in both the Caribbean and Latin America.

As our results clearly demonstrate, Canada has provided global leadership throughout these difficult economic times by encouraging free trade and open markets. Our commitment to free trade is key to Canada's economic strength.

We will continue to open doors for Canadian companies in the Americas and around the world. We are enhancing trade and investment in the Americas by encouraging deeper commercial relationships and engaging in free trade negotiations, and with great success.

For example, our free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia are now enforced, and Canadian companies are taking advantage of the new opportunities these agreements have produced.

In August 2011, Canada and Honduras announced the conclusion of negotiations toward a Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement. The same month, Canada also announced that it would work with Costa Rica to modernize and broaden the scope of the Canada-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement. An updated free trade agreement with Costa Rica stands to lower remaining tariffs on goods and would remove trade barriers in a broad range of sectors, creating new potential opportunities for Canadian construction, manufacturing and agriculture industries.

In April 2012, Canada and Chile signed an agreement to amend the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement, including the addition of a financial services chapter, which will ensure that Canadian financial institutions enjoy preferential access to the Chilean market.

We are not stopping there. As was announced last year, Canada is also engaged in exploratory discussions with Mercosur to enhance our trade relationship with this regional bloc, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The trade agreements that Canada has negotiated or is looking to negotiate give our businesses an additional competitive edge that will help them succeed in these regional markets. That is why I am asking members to pass Bill C-24, implementing the Canada free trade agreement.

Our commitment to further liberalize trade and investment is a key component to our engagement in the Americas. Through the lowering of tariffs and the promotion of investment and commercial relationships, our government is supporting the efforts of Canadian businesses by helping them establish a strong presence in these foreign markets.

I am pleased to say that our businesses have seized the opportunity. Canadian firms have been forging commercial ties in the region for decades. Today we can find Canadian businesses, goods, services, expertise and investment dollars at work throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a result of diverse opportunities and strong commercial ties throughout the region that are facilitated through free trade agreements. Many products manufactured in the region are using Canadian inputs before being sold domestically across Latin America and around the world.

I would repeat, once again, that I ask my Liberal and NDP colleagues here in the House to put partisan politics aside and look at what is to be gained here. This is not a complicated trade agreement. For example, there is a small company that makes oil and gas equipment in my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's, in Nova Scotia. They have another company in Mexico. Mexico has no tariff for goods going into Panama. However, we pay an 18% tariff. The product that the company is making today and selling in Panama is being made in Mexico so it can avoid the 18% tariff.

If we bring down the tariff walls, there are advantages there for Canadian businesses and for Panamanian businesses. Everybody gains. The hemisphere gains. Canada is a sought-after partner in the Americas.

We need to take advantage of the position we are in, the hard work that our government and other—

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague across the way for his speech. We agree on one thing. Rules-based trade is a great place to start in these agreements. Once we are working within the rules, things can improve.

Trade can bring improvement, not only to Canada, but also to impoverished peoples worldwide. That is, when we are trading on the basis of our economic strength: the high-skill, value-added, high-wage sectors. If we are just exporting raw resources, then it is not such an advantage for the people of that nation.

However, I want to get back to rules. The member mentioned that we have been blocking the legislation, and there are reasons for that. We asked them to sign a tax information exchange agreement. We asked them to put this into the free trade agreement. They refused.

My question is, why has there been the exclusion of this simple rule?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is not an exclusion of a simple rule. The reality is that Panama has made great strides in suppressing money laundering. It is off of the OECD “grey list”. It is moving in the direction that we want to move.

We have a double taxation agreement with Colombia already. For this trade agreement, that is what is required on our side. We believe the Colombians are living up to that.

The advantages of trade with the Colombians, the advantages of trading with somebody in our own hemisphere and in our time zone, are huge. We are a sought-after partner in Central America, in South America, in the southern hemisphere.

I can tell members that we need to take advantage of this, because the opportunity is now.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, students of economics always look at the issues of absolute and comparative advantage.

We know that Panama has many opportunities in absolute advantage that Canada does not have. The last time I looked, it was impossible for us to grow bananas here, for instance.

When I look at the opportunities for trade for a country like Panama with Canada, I know there are going to be products in which they have comparative advantage over Canada. We know when countries enter into relationships where comparative advantage is looked at, there are opportunities there for Panama to trade with Canada.

When we look at the lifestyle or we look at where Panama is currently, we know there are people who are living in poverty. However, we know that trade can open doors for job opportunities.

I wonder whether the parliamentary secretary would comment on what those opportunities are for Panamanian people to grow opportunities and jobs and build a new lifestyle.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think there are tremendous opportunities in Panama for Panamanians. There are also tremendous opportunities in Panama for Canadian businesses and for Canadians.

The reality is that Panama is both the gateway to the Caribbean and the gateway to Latin America. It is the joining factor between the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is in a very enviable position in Central America. Nothing will change that. That is geography. Panama has a huge geographical advantage over its neighbours, and the only canal that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The hon. member spoke about the complementary aspect of Canadian trade with Panama. There is a huge complementary aspect.

Last year, our exports to Panama totalled $111 million. That is small on a world scale, but that is extremely important to Canadian businesses and extremely important to Panama. We trade machinery, semi-precious stones and metals, meat, aerospace products, mineral fuels and oil, vegetables—primarily lentils, peas and frozen potato products—electrical and electronic equipment, paper and paperboard and pharmaceuticals.

There is a myriad of issues that we trade with Panama and a number of issues and expertise that we trade with Panama, with great opportunities and procurement in the twinning of the Panama Canal, the building of the copper mine, the copper-gold deposit in northern Panama. The opportunities are endless.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

June 7th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

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. The title of this bill, which suggests this legislation will provide excellent economic spinoffs for our country and for the country with which the agreement was reached, is somewhat misleading. Over the course of my speech, hon. members will come to understand what I mean by that. They will also understand that, for obvious reasons, my party and I are against this bill.

Let us begin with some background. Bill C-24 came out of the 2010 negotiations between the Government of Canada and Panama. At the time, Panama was still considered to be a tax haven under OECD tax haven criteria. Does wanting to conclude a free trade agreement with such a country not strike my colleagues as questionable? Let us not forget the problems related to tax havens.

Each year the Government of Canada loses $9 billion in taxes to tax havens. Obviously, this $9 billion is not being spent on programs and services for Canadians. By signing agreements with countries like Panama, the government is indirectly encouraging the rich and corporations to avoid paying their fair share to Canadian society, which means Canadians lose money. Clearly, that forces the middle class and the poor to make up the difference. Where is the logic in this?

The Prime Minister is also making cuts to several programs, organizations and services, such as Rights and Democracy, employment insurance, old age security, the experimental lakes program, the Canadian fisheries sector, and the list goes on.

An application for a lousy $12,000 to install a ramp for the disabled was denied recently in my riding on the pretext that the government has to tighten its belt and make cuts. The application was rejected in spite of the fact that it met all the eligibility criteria set by the minister. This application was denied at a time when $9 billion is being lost to tax havens. Again, where is the logic in that?

Evidently, cuts are often made to services that benefit the middle class and the poor. The government justifies that by saying that there is not enough money in its coffers, when on numerous occasions it could have replenished the government coffers, as is currently the case.

Of course, the government will say that Panama no longer meets the criteria because it signed 12 tax information exchange agreements with France. That is what the minister of state just told us. I would like to remind members, however, that that is the minimum number of agreements to get through the crisis. So, evidently, the government is expecting the minimum. What kind of logic is this?

This is not evidence of the Panamanian government's genuine intention to resolve these issues because these problems are due to the fact that Panama is a tax haven. All this demonstrates is Panama's desire to no longer be labelled a tax haven, because otherwise I would imagine that Panama would take a number of other steps to ensure that it in no way meets the four criteria for tax havens.

Furthermore, the New Democrats and many people in my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and that of my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord—who was unable to speak because closure was invoked by this government—as well as people in the 308 ridings in our country, cannot believe that Canada would enter into a free trade agreement with a country that refuses to sign a tax information exchange agreement, given Panama's reputation.

The government believes that the double taxation convention is enough. Let us be serious. Given that Panama engages in many illegal financial activities such as money laundering, it is quite naive to be satisfied with a convention that requires Panama to disclose only its legitimate revenues. Come on.

It is as though the government were unaware of the importance of money laundering to the country's business and unaware that Panama's tax haven policies make it a place that cannot be ignored.

As Todd Tucker said in November 2010, when he appeared before the committee studying this matter, “major Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, as well as Colombian illegal armed groups, use Panama for drug trafficking and money laundering purposes. The funds generated from illegal activity are susceptible to being laundered through Panamanian banks, real estate developments, and more.”

The government does not seem to realize that by doing business with Panama, it is encouraging this whole industry. That is what the Conservatives want. Well, no. They are muzzling us in order to hide the truth from Canadians and to make sure they get this agreement, no matter what the consequences. They are invoking closure to ensure that the opposition does not say anything embarrassing.

The government cannot remain indifferent to these facts, for as Françoise Héritier said, “Evil begins with indifference and resignation.” We in the NDP still believe that fair trade is possible and that we do not have to remain indifferent to the challenges that exist in other countries in order to create economic agreements that are sound and beneficial for all parties involved.

Another key point in this bill that prevents the NDP from supporting it is the notion of respect for workers' rights. There is absolutely nothing in this agreement to protect the fundamental rights of workers. There is nothing to ensure that these rights will not be denied in the future, as they were in 2010, when collecting mandatory union dues was prohibited, when the boss could fire striking employees, when roadblocks became illegal and when the police were protected from all criminal charges, legitimate or not. There is no protection against this.

The Conservatives seem to think that we can enter into an agreement with Panama and everything will magically work itself out, unless the Conservatives do not like workers' rights and are not really interested in them. Who knows. Clearly, I could talk about other questionable aspects, but there is not enough time.

At least I had time to speak. Many of my colleagues have not been able to represent their constituents because of the Conservatives' time allocation and closure motion.

I repeat: the NDP believes that it is possible, and desirable, for an effective trade strategy to make room for social justice, public-sector social programs and the gradual elimination of poverty.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

South Shore—St. Margaret's
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade

Mr. Speaker, I have to ask the same question to the hon. member that I asked to the previous speaker from the NDP. Hopefully, she will give a different answer.

The question is simple. We have negotiated this agreement with Panama based on the same template that we used in negotiating the Colombia and Jordan agreements. The agreements are practically identical, yet the NDP picks and chooses to support Jordan, apparently. We have not seen it support Jordan yet, but we will find out.

However, it does not choose to support Panama. It is in our own hemisphere. It is an area that certainly needs a hand up, an area that needs a good, fair and honest trading partner. My question for the hon. member is—and I do not want the nonsense about money laundering, because Panama is no longer on the OECD grey list—why support Jordan and not Panama?

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I took the time to mention in my speech, we obviously do not have the same expectations, because we think that the minimum is not enough. For me, the minimum is not enough. To tell us that Panama met the 10 minimum criteria is not enough.

I would also like to take the time to say that money laundering occurs in Panama, that Panama is a tax haven and that it has a law against protests. It also does not respect workers' rights.

As a result of all these things, we believe that we need to discuss this now, while we are debating this bill. Unfortunately, the Conservatives imposed a 25th gag order on us today. Two gag orders today; it is rather harsh. We believe that we need to continue to discuss this and that there are essential things that need to be added to protect the rights of Panamanian workers before we sign this agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, we hear the government talk about the fact that it wants to export Canadian values on top of that. In Canada we work to respect the rights of workers, including the rights of workers to be protected, to work in safety and to earn a wage on which they can raise their families. Do we not have a responsibility to make sure that the agreements we enter into are mirrored in that way in the countries that we have these agreements with?

I wonder if my hon. colleague could comment on that.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, it is important that we export our values to Panama. The NDP is very aware of workers' rights. On this side of the House, we believe that it is essential to discuss workers' rights before signing any type of agreement. Other concerns reflect our values—certainly not those of the government but those of the NDP—including sustainable development in Panama, responsible investments, the protection of workers' rights, and collective bargaining. These are all things that are important to us, and we want to see them reflected in this agreement before we sign anything.

If the government would listen to us instead of imposing gag orders, we could come to an agreement, but things are definitely more difficult when the government silences us and we are told that, in any case, the government will refuse all of our proposals without even checking to see if they are worthwhile.