Mr. Speaker, I will continue what I started the other day. The free trade agreement between Canada and Panama is in line with the Canada-U.S. strategy of signing a series of bilateral agreements.
I will continue to talk about the testimony we heard at the Standing Committee on International Trade, in particular the testimony of Todd Tucker, who appeared before the committee on November 17, 2010. He said this:
I have two central points. First, Panama is one of the world's worst tax havens. It is home to an estimated 400,000 corporations, including offshore corporations and multinational subsidiaries. This is almost four times the number of corporations registered in Canada.
Second, the Canada-Panama trade agreement should not be thought of primarily in the traditional terms, or solely in the traditional terms, of cutting tariffs. Instead, it should be seen for what it is, which is hundreds of pages of text that commit Canada and Panama to follow certain domestic policies. The pact would give new rights to the Government of Panama, and to the hundreds of thousands of offshore corporations located there, to challenge Canadian anti-tax-haven initiatives outside of the Canadian judicial system.
...What makes Panama a particularly attractive location for tax dodgers and offshore corporations? Well, for decades, the Panamanian government has pursued an intentional tax haven strategy. It offers foreign banks and firms a special offshore licence to conduct business there. Not only are these businesses not taxed, but they're subject to little to no reporting requirements or regulations.
According to the OECD, the Panamanian government has little to no legal authority to ascertain key information about these offshore corporations, such as their ownership. Panama's financial secrecy practices also make it a major site for money laundering from places throughout the world. According to the U.S. State Department, 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.
Panama's domestic legal regime is supplemented by a steadfast refusal, thus far, to engage in far-reaching tax information exchange agreements with its key trading partners. Up until last year, Panama had no international tax treaties of any kind. Now it is on track to have up to a dozen or more double-taxation treaties signed this year.
...The Canada-Panama trade deal would worsen the tax haven problem. As the OECD has noted, having a trade agreement without first tackling Panama's financial secrecy practices could incentivize even more offshore tax dodging. But there's a reason to believe that the trade deal will not only increase tax haven abuses but will also make fighting them that much harder.
I would like to take a few minutes, as we talk about this free trade agreement, to talk a little bit about free trade agreements in general.
What we hear on this side, and what I have been saying, is that we need to have fair trade as opposed to corporate free trade. Many of these agreements that our country or other countries have signed tend to emphasize giving more rights to the corporations, as evidenced by the agreement we signed with some European countries that has affected our shipbuilding industry by allowing more Norwegian ships to come in tariff-free.
Canada has always been a trading nation. Free trade has not been, in many instances, that positive, although there have been beneficial effects. There is some evidence, and I have been reading through some information on this, that when the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in the 1980s under the Mulroney government, there were some facts that were presented to provinces that were not quite the same documents circulated at the federal level. In other words, there is some question as to whether or not the provinces received enough information about the agreement. I will be studying that document further, just to see how it relates to what we are experiencing today.
We know that since our free trade agreements were signed, we have lost something like 300,000 manufacturing jobs in Canada. Just as an aside, it is shame that I cannot go into a store and buy a pair of shoes made in Canada. It is with difficulty that I found a jacket and winter boots made in Canada. Thank goodness we have a couple of companies in Montreal, Quebec that still manufacture winter boots.
We have seen the softwood lumber sellout. We have seen the hardship that has caused in our communities. We have seen cheap energy continuing to flow to the United States, knowing that we cannot cut back on that without cutting back on our own domestic consumption, thanks to NAFTA. We see in this time of instability in the world that east of Ottawa we have to import 90% of our oil. In fact, we are exporting our oil south from the west.
Chapter 11 of NAFTA allows corporations to sue Canadian governments, and millions of dollars of our taxpayers' money have gone to defending our provincial and federal governments as a result of these ludicrous lawsuits.
I would just like to conclude by saying that we really need to take a good look at these agreements so that they are in the best interests of the people of both countries.