Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to this bill. I did not expect to be speaking to additional NDP amendments to the bill, but I can honestly say I am not terribly surprised.
Without question these amendments are dilatory, obstructionist and unnecessary. They are a thinly veiled attempt to kill the bill, nothing more, nothing less. Worse yet, in my opinion, they disrespect the committee process because all committee members had ample opportunity to put forward all of their amendments at committee stage. We had lengthy debate and heard numerous witnesses, yet here we are debating four amendments that have nothing to do with the substance of the bill. They are only here to kill the bill.
I am happy to speak to Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, and am privileged to do so.
We need to recognize a few facts, because the previous speech was pretty short on facts.
Panama is a strategic hub for the Americas. It is an important nexus of commercial activity throughout the region. It is already an important market for Canadian businesses. In 2009, two-way merchandise trade between our countries totalled $132.1 million. Panama is a market with great potential, and this free trade agreement would help Canadian businesses take advantage of the opportunities that it offers. I have a personal example.
There is an engineering firm in my riding that specializes in the oil and gas sector. At the present time it is looking at some contracts in Panama. In order to fulfill those contracts, because of the duty, the company is better off to use its subsidiary business in Mexico and ship straight from Mexico to Panama. If this deal goes through, those jobs will stay in Canada.
This agreement would also establish a level playing field so that our companies could maintain or improve their competitiveness in a market where strong competitors, such as the United States and the European Union, have or are seeking preferential access.
A Canada-Panama free trade agreement would result in tangible benefits for Canadians. For example, it would be of key importance to Canadian merchandise exporters.
In 2009, two-way trade between Canada and Panama in non-agricultural merchandise amounted to $104.2 million with Canada's non-agricultural exports to Panama totalling $68 million. The hon. member wants to ignore the numbers as if they did not exist, but we have substantive trade between Canada and Panama now. It begs the question: why would we not include clearer rules to establish beneficial rules-based trading with a country that we are already trading with, that helps Canadian businesses and helps Canadian jobs?
Key Canadian non-agricultural exports to that market have included pharmaceuticals, machinery, vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment. Once implemented, our agreement with Panama would immediately eliminate tariffs on 99.9% of recent non-agricultural imports from Canada. The agreement would eliminate tariffs ranging from 5% to 11% on Canadian pharmaceutical exports to Panama, which amounted to $10.8 million last year.
Canadian machinery and automotive exports to Panama are currently subjected to tariffs as high as 15% to 20% respectively. Under the free trade agreement these barriers would be eliminated.
In these challenging economic times, when our manufacturing sector benefits, the country benefits.
In the forestry sector the Canada-Panama free trade agreement would eliminate tariffs as high as 15% on a range of wood and paper products, creating new opportunities for Canadians in the export of lumber, plywood, books, packaging materials and other products.
Here at home the forestry industry accounts for approximately 12% of Canada's manufacturing GDP and directly employs 230,000 Canadians. As the Forest Products Association of Canada has said, it is the economic lifeblood of over 200 communities in our country. Our government is working to ensure that industries like this one that contribute so much to our economy have access to growing markets like Panama and have the ability to make the most of the opportunities there.
In terms of our agricultural trade, Canadian producers exported $23.6 million of agriculture and agrifood products into Panama in 2009, and there is room to improve.
Panama currently applies tariffs on many agricultural products, some as high as 20%. Once implemented, the free trade agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on goods accounting for 94% of Canada's agricultural exports to Panama. This would benefit Canadian farmers countrywide, including exporters of frozen french fries, pulses, malt, oilseeds, beef and pork products, maple syrup and Christmas trees.
Canada Pork International has gone on record that Panama is one of the Canadian pork producers' top 15 markets. Approximately $5 million worth of pork products are exported there each year. They support the Canada-Panama free trade agreement and have emphasized the importance of moving ahead with this agreement to take advantage of entering a market ahead of our largest competitors.
The benefits of having access to the Panamanian market do not end with our agricultural and non-agricultural goods, producers and exporters. A free trade agreement with Panama would also improve access for Canadian service providers looking to enter this dynamic and growing market. Panama is a services-oriented economy and some in Canada's service sector have already established operations there.
In 2008, our commercial services exports to Panama totalled $12 million. This includes those providing financial services, engineering and professional services, information and communication technology services, and others.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would help Canadian service providers expand their operations, pursue new opportunities, and keep pace with their competitors.
In its services negotiations, Canada obtained access beyond Panama's World Trade Organization commitments, particularly in areas of export interest to Canada, including mining services, energy services and environmental services. This means preferential access for Canadian service providers in sectors where Canada has expertise to share.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would also establish new rules to govern trade in services, ensuring the secure, predictable and equitable treatment of service providers from both countries.
This is to ensure that a company such as SNC Lavalin, which is leading a consortium to build a $4 billion copper mine in Panama, owned by Inmet, a Canadian mining company, will directly benefit from this agreement.
We are making our way through some difficult economic times. Many hard-working Canadians are looking for us to show leadership on the economy, promote sustainable economic improvements, and create opportunities for job growth. Our government has made a commitment to do just that, to help Canadians capitalize on their expertise and expand into new and exciting markets.
Canada's producers, exporters and service providers are constantly faced with fierce competition, and we must do what we can to ensure they compete on even ground with their competitors.
We must continue to reduce barriers to trade and negotiate competitive terms of access in global markets. We must show the world that Canada's businesses are second to none.
A free trade agreement with Panama would help to do this.
For all of these reasons, I call on all hon. members in this House, including the members of the NDP, to support Bill C-46.
In the time remaining, I would like to summarize some of the highlights of this bill. There are a couple that we cannot ignore.
We cannot ignore the increased traffic that will go through Panama after it is finished twinning the Panama Canal. We can look at that as an obstruction, a challenge, or we can look at that as an opportunity. Quite frankly, I look at it as an opportunity. There is no reason that increased flow of traffic cannot feed our container ports on the west coast and east coast of Canada.
We simply do not have to wait for the European Union or the United States to sign free trade agreements before we come in a day late and a dollar short. We are leading the way, we are promoting Canadian businesses, and we intend to continue.