I thank the member for Hochelaga for that very important clarification.
This agreement allowed access to the markets and resources of various countries, which constituted a major step in terms of both human and economic progress.
In the past, many countries waged wars because they wanted to access a resource found in a neighbouring country or because one country was looking for new markets to sell goods. Every empire was built on this desire to have as many places as possible to sell their goods and to accumulate wealth. By opening up trade and accessing our neighbours' resources, without having to invade them or declare war, we probably avoided wars and improved international relations. Over time, these agreements became increasingly important economically.
For an exporting country like Quebec, which essentially produces manufactured goods for export, free trade is attractive because it facilitates access to markets and helps make us more competitive. These agreements enable us to sell our companies' goods, our own creations, to foreign countries, to create jobs in Quebec and to bring in good revenue.
What is more, consumers gain access to these products. In the case of Quebec, imported products often, but not always, have less value added and cost less than usual.
Every country has its strengths and weaknesses. In theory, the underlying principle of free trade is to draw on the strengths of each country to benefit all the partners.
If everything is done properly and Quebec definitely benefits, then the Bloc Québécois will support an agreement. However, let us not get carried away by ideology and say we are for or against free trade no matter what they are trying to sell us. The situation needs to be analyzed and assessed. Obviously, that did not happen in the case of the Panama agreement. In fact, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and from the Department of Industry admitted when they appeared before committee that they did not conduct any studies to determine whether these agreements would be beneficial to our economy. The government is blindly entering this agreement with the attitude that, because we are all in favour of free trade, we will always support agreements of this kind. The Bloc is not prepared to go down that road.
They want so badly to sign a host of bilateral free trade agreements at any cost that they are prepared to consider any and all markets. The government is considering concluding an agreement with China, when we have a $26 billion trade deficit with that country. The Chinese sell us goods worth $26 billion more than what we sell to them. Before considering freer trade with countries like China, we should start by looking at how we could restore trade balance with them.
The Bloc Québécois proposes taking a multilateral approach, in other words, negotiating trade agreements at the international level, or at least with larger blocks of countries. That would help establish a better balance between the economic advantages that each country hopes to draw from the agreement and all the social, human and environmental considerations, which often are not included in these very specific bilateral agreements.
With regard to Panama in particular, we are concerned about the issue of workers' rights. The government of Panama has moved even farther to the right and has passed legislation that many consider to be extremely anti-union, since it will make it illegal for workers to demonstrate, protest or lobby to improve their salary conditions.
Another concern we have about this free trade agreement is the issue of tax havens. Panama is on France's blacklist and the OECD's grey list of tax havens. At least in theory, we do not want companies to be able to do business in Panama, not because of economic opportunities but because of laughably low taxes and the banking system's lack of transparency. We are worried that companies will take advantage of this to avoid paying taxes that they should legitimately be paying to Canada. In addition, if we sign a free trade agreement, we will make it even easier for people who want to use these tax havens. That is a big concern for us.
The Bloc Québécois has long been fighting to put an end to tax havens like Bermuda, Barbados, Panama and many others.
I kept a close eye on the whole saga of Barbados and the shipping company former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin operated there. He even voted for retroactive legislation that allowed him to repatriate profits to Canada tax-free. This was money he had laundered through Barbados. We criticized it then and we have ever since. And apparently it still does not bother the Liberal Party very much to sign a free trade agreement with a tax haven.
There is another reason to fight against tax havens. Yes, we need to recover the billions of dollars theoretically owed to our governments, but we also need to keep criminals from hiding their money in these tax havens. Even if they are caught, once they get out of prison, they can recover the money because we have no way of intervening and checking what money is flowing in and out of these countries.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the bill that is before us today. We invite the Liberals, in particular, to rethink the advisability of supporting the government and instead vote against this bill in order to send the government back to the drawing board and have it negotiate multilateral agreements that are good for Quebec, Canada and all working people.