Canada-Panama Free Trade Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

Third reading (House), as of Feb. 7, 2011
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment implements the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements on the environment and labour cooperation entered into between Canada and the Republic of Panama and done at Ottawa on May 13 and 14, 2010.

The general provisions of the enactment specify that no recourse may be taken on the basis of the provisions of Part 1 of the enactment or any order made under that Part, or the provisions of the Free Trade Agreement or the related agreements themselves, without the consent of the Attorney General of Canada.

Part 1 of the enactment approves the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreements and provides for the payment by Canada of its share of the expenditures associated with the operation of the institutional aspects of the agreements and the power of the Governor in Council to make orders for carrying out the provisions of the enactment.

Part 2 of the enactment amends existing laws in order to bring them into conformity with Canada’s obligations under the Free Trade Agreement and the related agreement on labour cooperation.

Part 3 of the enactment contains coordinating amendments and the coming into force provision.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 7, 2011 Passed That Bill C-46, 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 concurred in at report stage.
Feb. 7, 2011 Failed That Bill C-46 be amended by deleting Clause 63.
Feb. 7, 2011 Failed That Bill C-46 be amended by deleting Clause 12.
Feb. 7, 2011 Failed That Bill C-46 be amended by deleting Clause 10.
Feb. 7, 2011 Failed That Bill C-46 be amended by deleting Clause 7.
Oct. 26, 2010 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on International Trade.
Oct. 26, 2010 Passed That this question be now put.
Oct. 20, 2010 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following: “Bill C-46, 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 not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.”.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Yukon and I share many things.

I agree with him that there should be some countries we enter into fair trade agreements with that are based on careful analysis and that provide us the answers we want.

In some ways probably multilateral trade with Latin America would be better. It has trading group there called Mercosur. There are certain provisions within that trading group that it wants to maintain. Canada has to understand that fair trade means we deal with what the countries that have banded together want.

With some of those countries, though, we have a problem because we have very large subsidies and tariffs against things such as sugared-based ethanol from Brazil. That is a problem. How would we get around that and keep the subsidies in place for our farmers? Those are things that bar us from fair trade agreements with large expanding trading partners.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Western Arctic for clearly outlining why we should be opposed to this agreement. I have a question for him with regard to tax havens.

Back in November, Mr. Todd Tucker appeared before the committee that was examining the bill. He indicated that we were being told not to worry, that we were protected from the fact that Panama could continue to be a bad actor with the tax havens. He said that in the agreement there were clauses that would actually prevent Canada from taking any action, specifically article 9.10, which states:

Each Party shall permit transfers related to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay, into and out of its territory.

Then it goes on to talk about chapters 9 and 12 of the free trade agreement that have non-discrimination clauses.

Could the member for Western Arctic comment on the fact that Panama is noted for its tax havens and that we will not be protected under the agreement from the continuing abuse of the tax haven status in Panama?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, that question troubles and perplexes all of us. When we go into a free trade agreement with the kind of provisions we have proposed with Panama, we open a Pandora's box. There are 400,000 corporations in Panama. They are not there for the weather. They are there because the tax haven status is such that they can be there. Interestingly enough, many of them are also criminal organizations. These are things that will filter through to the Canadian side with this kind of agreement.

Panama refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement. Therefore, the country recognizes what it is doing with its laws for the corporations it shelters. It is not interested in changing, so why would we go ahead with this agreement?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, many of the New Democrats give the impression that it is strictly the tax haven issue that prevents them from voting for the bill. I guess a hypothetical question for the member, and I would really appreciate a good answer, is this. If the issue were not a tax haven, would they then be more inclined to support the bill, the concept of freer trade?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, it is hypothetical and we do not deal with hypothetical issues here. We are dealing with a trade agreement between Panama and Canada. Once this passes the House, then that is the law of the land. Therefore, we cannot be hypothetical about it. We have to be practical and realistic about it.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the debate concerning Bill C-46.

As has already been said by many of my colleagues in the House, if passed by Parliament, Bill C-46 would implement a free trade agreement, an agreement on labour co-operation and an environmental accord between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

I share many of the positive comments that have already been made during the debate. Canada is after all a trading nation that has, for the past 30 years, maintained a trade surplus with our global neighbours and our competitors, or at least that was the case until now.

Canada is still a nation on which 80% of our economy is trade-dependent, but despite the lofty trade talk, the Conservative government has presided over a tremendous decline in our national trade advantage. Now, for the first time in more than a generation Canada is in a trade deficit situation.

That is right, the nation that was created and has since maintained itself by trading with our neighbours is importing more than we are selling globally. This new dependency must concern all of us. It is disappointing to me, but for Canadian farmers, manufacturers, and other exporters of Canadian goods and expertise, this is simply a disaster.

As members can imagine, I am pleased to see that the government is starting to focus its attention on trade matters, even if I would rather have seen that focus be on larger, more robust and growing markets, markets that could provide a greater growth potential for Canadian goods and labour expansion.

I want to be clear, I am not suggesting that Panama is not worth the effort; just the opposite. Canada and Panama had more than $132 million worth of bilateral trade in 2009 alone. Then, despite the recession in 2010, Panama's GDP grew by just over 5%. Put another way, while Panama's market potential for trade is relatively small, it is moving in the right direction.

In contrast to the Conservative approach to trade, when the Liberals devised the team Canada approach to opening new trading opportunities, we set our focus on much larger markets, such as the U.S., China, the U.K., the Netherlands and Italy. I suppose the difference is that the Liberals were confident that Canada could and should compete at the highest levels on the global stage, while Conservatives continue to concern themselves with smaller, short-terms goals.

That was then and this is now, so I need to be thankful for smaller steps. With this in mind, I want to congratulate the Minister of International Trade for his efforts to make this agreement possible.

What does this agreement actually do for Canada and for the people of Panama? Right now, Panama levies tariffs on Canadian agricultural products in the range of 13% to 260%. That means that Canadian agricultural products such as pulses, frozen potatoes, processed foods and beef are taxed in a way that makes them uncompetitive when directly compared with some of our Panamanian goods. We clearly know that our agricultural community continues to be under fire and under huge stress, and we need to do everything we can to decrease those problems.

As an example, a bushel of soybeans that would sell for $13.98 in Canada would face a tax in Panama of 47%, or $6.57. With that extra taxation, that bushel would cost $20.55 to a further processor in Panama. That is unfair for our marketplace and unfair for our agricultural industry. This means Panamanians would be more apt to buy Panamanian produced goods when given that choice rather than pay the premium for a top notch Canadian product, understood by all of us.

The agreement would put an end to that artificially prompted competitive disadvantage for our farmers and it would allow Canadian farmers to start to compete on a level playing field, something they have consistently proven their ability to do effectively in many other jurisdictions.

On non-agricultural goods, Panama currently maintains an average-applied tariff of between 6.2% and 81%.

The passage of Bill C-46 means that Canadian fish, construction materials, paper products, and vehicle and auto parts will no longer face this kind of harmful taxation. Again, this kind of tariff reduction means that Canadian industry will have the option of opening and exploring Panama's market potential from a position of strength rather than one of initial economic disadvantage.

In return, Canada will eliminate almost all tariffs on currently imported Panamanian goods. This deal will allow the market to sort out which industry is the most competitive and which products are of the greatest quality and desire to consumers. As I look back on history, I have every confidence that when competing on a level playing field, Canadian farmers, anglers, manufacturers, and paper workers will create success and generate tremendous wealth for their respective industries.

I should also mention that this Canada–Panama free trade deal would seek to address non-tariff trade barriers to further help ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods. While each of these things represent positive advantages, I would be remiss if I focused only on trade and not on the labour portions of the agreement which continue to be of enormous concern to me and others. This is especially important given the refurbishing and expansion of the Panama Canal, which is expected to be completed by 2014.

As with some of the other trade deals that Canada has signed, this agreement includes a side agreement on labour co-operation and the environment. The Canada–Panama agreement on labour co-operation recognizes the obligation of both countries under the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which requires that each country ensure that their domestic laws, regulations, and practices protect fundamental labour principles and rights at work.

Specifically, this includes: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced labour, and the elimination of discrimination. These are extremely important issues when we are talking about free trade. As a former minister of citizenship and immigration, I think these are important elements of any free trade deal.

While free trade agreements are most certainly economic devices, the Liberals have long viewed trade and engagement as important instruments of social advancement and human rights promotion. When a nation exists in isolation, there is little regard for these fundamental freedoms and rights. However, once a country becomes part of the greater community of nations, there is an imposition of a greater social responsibility.

Sometimes I wonder which comes first. Clearly, this is the avenue we are pursuing, but monitoring these issues must be of high importance to Canada.

Canada has been a trading nation since it was opened by the coureurs de bois in the 17th century. Our native people traded for all items they could not produce themselves. Generations of Canadians have exported our products and ideas to the entire world. Canadian expertise has been responsible for countless global advances, but it has also helped this nation in ways those first coureurs de bois could never have imagined.

Today, Canada is the 11th largest trader on the planet, ranking well ahead of countries such as Spain, Russia, Mexico, India, and Australia. Our international commerce amounts to more than $600 billion annually, and more than 80% of our economy is directly dependent upon trade and commerce with others. Indeed, to say that Canada is a trading nation would be a tremendous understatement, and it is for this reason that I am pleased to support Bill C-46.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the position of the Liberal Party on this trade agreement is that as long as we sign the trade agreement, everything else will magically improve. We will just keep our fingers crossed, and do it on a wing and a prayer. I wonder if the member could comment.

This free trade agreement between Canada and Panama was signed in May 2010, but here is what happened in the summer of 2010. The president announced unilateral changes to labour law. The law ended environmental impact studies on projects deemed to be of social interest. It banned mandatory dues collections from workers. It allowed employers to fire striking workers and replace them with strike-breakers. It criminalized street blockades and protected police from prosecution.

The severity of this attack on labour rights was met with strikes and demonstrations. The police were exceedingly harsh in their response and this was just this past summer. At least six people were killed, protesters were seriously injured, and many were blinded by tear gas and police violence. Three hundred trade union leaders were detained. That was the summer and it was in May 2010 that this agreement was signed.

Does the member really believe that engaging in these kinds of trade agreements will help either labour standards, environmental standards, or human rights generally?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for that very important question. It is one of the issues that I, and I suspect many of my colleagues in the House, continue to try to find a balance.

Which comes first? Is there an improvement to the human rights record, labour, and so on, and then we will have a trade agreement? A good part of me would prefer it to go that way, but history has shown that it usually works the other way.

We need to be monitoring these things very carefully. It gives me a degree of confidence that they will be monitored. I would not hesitate to cancel the agreement and use that threat constantly if labour laws are not respected.

This is about providing more opportunities, not only for our Canadian farmers and manufacturers but also for theirs. It is a two-way street. If Panama cannot treat its citizens with respect and decency, then I would be the first one to stand up and say, “Cancel the agreement”, whether it is this one or any other trade agreement that we would have.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I wonder how much confidence the member has in this government to ensure that the trade agreement stands up for Canadian free trade given its dismal record in relation to the United States.

Time and time again, border crossings have put roadblocks in front of Canadian products going to the United States. There are the labelling and non-tariff barriers. The industry complained of huge lineups in the last few years. This has nothing to do with security. It has to do with standing up for Canadian trade. I wonder if the member would comment on that.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, those are the kinds of issues that are not only for the government side but it is part of our responsibilities in the opposition to stay very much attuned, monitor and raise those issues. We must ensure that the government monitors them as well. Part of our job is to make sure that the government does its job.

Clearly, we want to see opportunities for our farmers and manufacturers in Canada. My desire is to see the tariffs removed and assistance going to our farmers and manufacturers.

I am prepared to support this very cautiously. However, I will also monitor what is going on and keep my ear to the ground when it comes to labour law and any kind of outbreak happening in those countries when it comes to the abuse of their citizens.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House again today to speak to Bill C-46, which seeks to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

I say “again” because I have previously had the opportunity to speak at length on this bill at second reading. At that time, I focused my comments predominantly on three areas: labour issues; the fair trade movement as opposed to the free trade movement; and, of course, the serious implications of signing a free trade agreement with a tax haven, a free port or free zone, such as Panama, which is a country of convenience.

While I may get back to some of those seminal issues later if time permits, I want to focus today on environmental concerns and the very serious cautions we received in committee about signing a trade agreement with a country that many suggest is a safe haven for international crime.

Let me begin with the latter first.

Alain Deneault, who is a sociologist at the Université du Québec à Montréal, gave a succinct presentation at the Standing Committee on International Trade that summarized much of the prevailing thought and evidence about criminal activities in Panama and how those activities threaten to permeate Canadian jurisdictions if the implementation of this free trade agreement proceeds as planned.

Let me remind members of some of the most salient points.

A number of criminologists consider Panama to be a hub for money laundering, with a link to international drug trafficking, because of the Colon Free Zone. Patrice Meyzonnier, the chief commissioner at the headquarters of France's judicial police, talks in his book about a state involved in drug trafficking and the laundering of a good chunk of the world's dirty money. He says that Panama plays a bridging role between the south and north, from Colombia to the United States.

The criminal activity in the Colon Free Zone takes place mainly in the hotel industry, and via fictitious commercial spaces and fictitious rents.

It is actually a whole economy of money laundering that is corroborated in another book by Marie-Christine Dupuis-Danon of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. She states:

Drug traffickers capitalize on the benefits associated with free zones like the one near Colon in Panama. This zone actually fosters the movement of goods and cash, with little surveillance from the authorities. There are no fewer than 1,890 companies generating a total of $5 billion annually in re-export activities. By definition, there are no customs duties on the operations carried out in the Colon Free Zone. As a result, the authorities are not able to enforce the regulations that are in effect in the rest of the country, including the declaration of sums over $10,000. Drug traffickers buy goods and resell them for cash with a 20 to 30% discount to the dealers in the free port. So they deposit their pesos in banks in the free zone and transfer their funds to their regular accounts in Colombia.

Dupuis-Danon's findings are corroborated by Alain Delpirou and Eduardo MacKenzie in their book, The Criminal Cartels. They stress that cocaine and heroine trafficking is a major industry in the region and that it becomes an even greater problem because the free port of Colon has direct access to an uncontrolled zone in Colombia.

Finally, Mr. Deneault reminded us that Thierry Cretin, a former French judge who worked for the European Anti-Fraud Office, has published accounts that clearly demonstrate that the Colombian and Mexican mafias are very active in Canada while also very present in Panama. It seems hard to believe that we as legislators would vote in favour of anything that would make our country an even more porous jurisdiction for organized crime.

At a minimum, I would have thought that such mounting evidence from impeccable sources would have given the government pause for thought. I would have hoped that it would have caused the government to exercise extreme caution and that it would have reconsidered entering into a free trade agreement with this particular jurisdiction.

In passing, does it not strike others in this chamber as more than passing strange that this deal is being made by a Conservative government that is desperately trying to sell itself as being tough on crime? Does it even understand what it really takes to fight crime? Let me tell the members that it takes a lot more than a catchy slogan to get the job done.

If we want to get at organized crime, then we have to get at the money. By allowing Panama to continue to be a tax haven it is easy for corporations to register there and it makes it easy to launder money via Panama. In essence, Panama is being allowed to facilitate the operations of organized crime syndicates, along with the drug trafficking and human trafficking that go along with them. The Canadian government is essentially condoning those activities when it enters into a bilateral trade agreement with no strings attached.

Clearly, that should never happen. My NDP colleagues and I are doing everything in our power to ensure that it does not happen. That is why we are here today debating the four amendments that we have introduced to Bill C-46.

The four motions are as follows. The first motion is to eliminate clause 7 that outlines the purpose of the bill. The second motion is to eliminate the clause designating that the minister is the representative of Canada. The third motion is to eliminate clause 12 that lays out the minister's authorized activities in his role. The last one is to eliminate the final clause, the coming into force clause stating when the bill would become law.

Together these four motions essentially gut the bill, giving the government an opportunity to rethink its approach to international trade. We certainly would not be the only jurisdiction to take that opportunity. When the debate began in this House on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, we were told over and over again that it must be okay to proceed because the Americans were forging ahead with a similar agreement.

Well, the air has certainly gone out of that balloon, because not only have the Americans not passed that agreement, but no fewer than 54 United States congressmen have now demanded that President Obama forgo the agreement until Panama has signed the tax information exchange treaties.

Those treaties are the first step to putting an end to the tax havens that facilitate money laundering, and the Americans got it right: sign the treaties first and then negotiate.

In Canada, the Conservatives and Liberals are operating on a wing and a prayer. They would implement the free trade agreement and then use moral suasion to get the Panamanians to do the right thing. It is not going to work; others have tried and failed, and we should have learned our lesson.

I see that I only have a couple of minutes left to conclude my comments here today, and I really did want to focus on the environment as well, since I did not have an opportunity to do that in my last intervention. I will try to be brief.

First, let me acknowledge that MiningWatch Canada was absolutely right when it pointed out in its submission to the committee that the environmental impact of this FTA is impossible to gauge because it has not been made public, as it was supposed to be after the signing of the trade agreement.

The report that is publicly available on the initial environmental assessment is almost completely devoid of meaningful content. The one thing it does acknowledge, however, is that:

The main effect is likely to be greater protection for existing Canadian investment in Panama.

There it is in a nutshell. This agreement is all about protecting investments while ignoring the environmental implications of that protection. There is absolutely no attempt to frame any aspect of this agreement in terms of sustainable development.

This will be of huge concern to both environmentalists and to all of those Canadians who were actively engaged in the campaign on corporate social responsibility. As the bill on CSR was recently defeated in this House by Conservatives and Liberals, I guess I should not be surprised that this free trade agreement will be passed by the same coalition.

Nonetheless, let us be clear about what is happening in Panama. Examples of Canadian mining projects in Panama include the proposed Cobre Panama open pit copper project by Inmet Mining on the Petaquilla concession, west of Panama City, which is forecast to deforest 5,900 hectares of what is mostly primary rainforest in the middle of the Mesoamerican biological corridor; the controversial Molejón gold mine project of Petaquilla Minerals, which is repeatedly accused by nearby communities of deforestation and contaminating local rivers, and was fined almost $2 million for environmental violations; and Corriente Resources' illegal activity in the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, trying to overcome community opposition to a huge open pit copper mine project so the company can first obtain and then sell the property to a larger mining company for development.

This free trade agreement will only increase such Canadian investments, yet we know that environmental protection and legal enforcement and compliance in general in Panama are notoriously weak, even within the framework of existing laws and regulations. Why would we enter into a trade agreement that will end up protecting mining investments that are taking advantage of lax governance and the resulting low cost operating environment, and allow Canadian corporations to undertake projects that would never be approved in Canada, or any other country for that matter, without more stringent controls?

In a global economy, we must take global responsibility. That means that we must vote against the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for very ably outlining some of the other concerns that New Democrats have with this latest round of free trade agreements that the Conservatives are proposing.

I wanted to touch on two points. In her speech the member raised these issues around mining and sustainability. When this bill was being studied at committee, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster actually brought forward two proposed amendments that were defeated by the Liberals the Conservatives.

One was with regard to sustainable development. That amendment defined sustainable development as:

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as set out in the Brundtland Report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development.

The second amendment that the member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed was with regard to sustainable investment. That amendment defined sustainable investment as:

investment that seeks to maximize social good as well as financial return, specifically in the areas of the environment, social justice, and corporate governance, in accordance with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.

The member ably outlined some of the concerns with the mining companies in Panama. I wonder if she could comment on how these two proposed amendments would at least have improved that particular situation.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan shares my profound concerns about this free trade agreement. In fact, it is one of the reasons that so many of my colleagues in the NDP caucus have taken the time to put our position on the record today and in days past.

The member raises an important question. Sustainable investments and sustainable development are really at the core of what is at issue in this trade agreement. They are the reasons why organizations like the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace are so engaged in free trade issues, particularly in the global south. We should not be engaging in trade if we are not able to respect human rights, environmental laws and labour laws.

We have seen a whole slew of bilateral free trade agreements brought to the House by the Conservative government, be they with Panama, the trade agreement we are talking about today, or Colombia, which is clearly also the case. The amendments that were moved by our colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster are absolutely crucial to restoring some integrity, and they really do go to the heart of corporate social responsibility.

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the many members who have spoken on this issue. I think a good debate adds to the availability of trade for our country.

I would like to ask my colleague from the NDP for her viewpoint on this particular fact: About 45% of our gross domestic product comes from exports. That staggering number only goes to show how important these trade agreements with other countries are, and how important it is to reach out. It was the very foundation of trade that helped develop our country.

I would like to ask my colleague why she would be opposed to having an improved trade environment between countries that would allow, for example, Canada to have some impact upon the labour situations in other countries and allow Canadian companies to expand and grow and continue to contribute to the gross domestic product of our country?

Canada-Panama Free Trade ActGovernment Orders

February 7th, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's question allows me to say quite clearly that New Democrats are not against trade. What we do stand for is fair trade and not free trade at all costs. That is really the issue here.

The member perhaps exaggerates the importance of Panama to us even as a trading nation. The trade that we have with Panama is slightly in excess of $100 million, which is simply a drop in the bucket in terms of our overall Canadian trade.

Panama is a country that is in complete defiance of the notion of sustainable investment or sustainable development. We have an obligation as global citizens to ensure that we protect the same rights in countries abroad, where we want to do business, as we would do here at home.

Why is it okay for the member to suggest that it is all right for us to ignore labour laws, environmental laws and human rights in other parts of the world, when I know for a fact that she would never condone corporations taking those kinds of actions here?