Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of 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.
I am pleased to participate in a debate that, unusual for this House in recent times, we had hoped would be relatively free of heated partisan rhetoric. It is not so, but we had hoped. I support the passage of the bill for many of the same reasons that members sitting on the government side of the House support it.
Unfortunately, before we discuss the meat and potatoes of Bill C-46, we need to deal with the amendments put forward by the NDP. I appreciate that the NDP does not support the bill. I can also appreciate that it put forward amendments following the rules and practices of the House. However, this is simply a last ditch attempt to halt a bill that would allow for better economic relations with Panama.
Let us look at what the NDP is asking for and why this 11th hour effort is just another example of that party's inability to accept that free trade is not a bad thing.
The NDP began by proposing that clause 7 be deleted but that is the clause that sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, that poses a bit of a problem. It would be similar to a car with no driver. Maybe those members are trying for a revival of the TV show Knight Rider but most of us like to have a driver behind the wheel. They are also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions and, without those kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.
I know members of the NDP want to ensure that the bill does not pass, so it is not a major surprise to see such amendments, but this total disdain for the possible benefits of free trade is very disappointing. Why these stall tactics without some truly constructive amendments?
They are also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering the bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. It seems to me that these matters are important to NDP members, so I question their objective in opposing clause 12.
In addition, they are asking that clause 63 be deleted, the coming into force provision.
Without those clauses there would be no bill. Are my NDP colleagues playing political games here in the House rather than having an informative and intelligent debate? Many of these issues have already been discussed in committee.
I can safely say that I will not support the amendments, but I will take a bit more time to talk about the bill as currently drafted.
In spite of the global economic decline, Panama's gross domestic product increased by 10.7% in 2008, which is one of the highest rates in the Americas. It is expected to increase by 5.6% in 2010. In 2009, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million; Canada's exports were worth $91.4 million and imports from Panama totalled $40.7 million.
Canada's main exports to Panama include machinery, electronic equipment for vehicles, pharmaceutical equipment, leguminous seeds, and frozen potato products. Services related to export that Canada offers include financial services, engineering services, and communications information and technology services. Goods that Canada imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, primarily gold; fruit and nuts; and fish and seafood products.
The Panama Canal is essential to international trade. Its expansion should be finished by 2014. This $5.3 billion project could create opportunities for Canadian companies to provide services in the areas of construction, environment, engineering and consultation on capital investment projects, as well as in many other areas.
Some of the issues covered under the trade agreement include market access for goods, cross-border trade services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement.
Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on agricultural products of 13.6%, with tariffs reaching peaks as high as 260% on some products. The free trade agreement will eliminate those tariffs on 90% of products immediately, and on the other 10% little by little over the next five to 15 years. This should enhance the competitive position of Canadian agricultural exports such as frozen potato products, pulses, pork—which is currently taxed at a rate of 47%—malt, processed foods and beef.
Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on non-agricultural goods of 6.2%, with peaks of up to 81% applied on several key Canadian exports. The free trade agreement will completely eliminate those tariffs, which will certainly help Canadian exporters of fish and seafood, construction materials and equipment, industrial and electrical machinery, paper products, and vehicles and parts.
Canada would immediately eliminate over 99% of the tariffs imposed on current imports from Panama.
The free trade agreement will also address non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods and the promotion of good regulatory practices, transparency and international standards.
We live in a global economy and our survival as a nation depends on our ability to work with other nations around the world. We have seen the disadvantages we incur when we are slow to interact with growing economies.
The fact is that Canada today has a trade deficit. For the first time in 30 years, we are actually buying more than we are selling internationally. That is ominous for a small, open economy like Canada that has depended disproportionately on external trade for our standard of living and our wealth as a country.
If we look at where the world is headed and where the growth will be over the next five to ten years, we see that it will be in China, India and in the Asian economies. We also see a lot of opportunities in Africa, despite the governance concerns in certain countries. We see a lot of progress in Africa and we see a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity.
Then we look at the Latin American countries and, increasingly, it is becoming clear that being dependent on the traditional economies of the U.S. and Europe is not where we want to be. We need to think outside the box. We need to look for new partners and facilitate trade. We need to provide tools both at home and abroad that will make Canada a country that others want to invest in and trade with. If there are problems between the two, we will work it out. Simply saying “no deal” because no country is perfect is a pretty obvious sign of a very narrow-minded party.
Yes, I agree that Panama represents a small trading partner compared to the government's missed opportunities with China and India, but it is still a real and obvious partner. I strongly believe that there is strength in numbers and, even if the government has failed to truly engage our largest trading partners, we must never forget about the smaller ones. They provide unique opportunities and highlight Canada's place on the world stage as a country open to all.
In closing, I must remind the House that the 21st century is here and we cannot close our doors to the world. We need to be looking at partnerships with any and all governments while promoting our values and strengths abroad.