Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues who have spoken so far to Bill C-24, 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. They have also done a fine job of explaining the NDP's position on this bill and why we oppose it.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24 on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. This is not the first time we have talked about this bill and opposed it. It was introduced in the House in the 40th Parliament, where it reached second reading stage. The bill died on the order paper because of the election, as we all know.
I will try to explain why the NDP opposes this bill and the trade agreements proposed therein.
The free trade agreement is worrisome given the controversies surrounding Panama's track record on respecting workers' rights, human rights and the environment and because Panama is used as a tax haven for tax evasion.
In our opinion, this agreement promotes the exploitation of workers and human rights. When the committee studied Bill C-46, we heard convincing testimony about the fact that Panama had a bad track record when it comes to workers' rights and that the side agreements on labour co-operation were very weak.
Teresa Healy, senior researcher with the social and economic policy department of the Canadian Labour Congress, said:
The Canada-Panama agreement does not include specific protection for the right of association and the right to strike. Instead, it provides “effective“ recognition for the right to bargain collectively. As far as union rights are concerned, the agreement is, therefore, weaker than previous agreements.
On labour issues, the amendments are modest; there are no countervailing duties; there is no provision for abrogation or any other such remedy; and again, labour provisions are in a side agreement outside the main agreement.
I would like to say a few words about labour rights in Panama.
Panama has a population of about 3.4 million. It is currently enjoying relatively high rates of growth, but it is ranked second among countries in the region in terms of inequality: 40% of Panama's inhabitants are poor, 27% are extremely poor, and the rate of extreme poverty is particularly high among indigenous populations. In recent years, the country has undergone considerable liberalization and privatization, but they have not trickled down to financially benefit the population.
When we look at Panama's labour laws and the lack of protection for its working people, it amazes me that the Government of Canada is in such a hurry to sign an agreement with this country.
Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress testified before the committee about the labour co-operation agreement. She said that, although the agreement mentions the International Labour Organization's core labour standards, it is still too weak. What is more, in recent years, the Panamanian government has been increasingly harsh on labour unions and workers. We are convinced that this trade agreement does not respect the integrity of human rights.
The Government of Canada issued an official warning that can be found on the site for tourists and investors. It reads:
OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel beyond the town of Yaviza in Darién Province. The danger zone begins at the end of the Pan American Highway (past Yaviza, about 230 km southeast of Panama City) and ends at the Colombian border. This area includes parts of Darién National Park and privately owned nature reserves and tourist resorts. Due to the presence of Colombian guerrilla groups and drug traffickers, levels of violent crime in this zone are extremely high, with numerous reports of kidnapping, armed robberies, deaths and disappearances.
I would also like to add that Darién National Park is a nature reserve in the Darién region of Panama that has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1981.
Darién National Park is the largest of Panama's national parks. It is connected to Los Katíos National Park in Colombia.
I would like to quote the hon. member for Newton—North Delta. When the bill reached second reading stage, she said:
It seems that we have not learned too many lessons from our experiences with NAFTA. As a result of NAFTA, we have seen hundreds of thousands of jobs disappear over the border and into other countries.
During the clause-by-clause review, the NDP member for Vancouver Kingsway proposed several amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. The changes would have integrated into the bill the protection of workers' rights, including the right to collective bargaining. Other amendments would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult workers and unions, as well as human rights experts and organizations, in order to conduct analyses of the impact of the trade agreement. That motion was rejected by the Conservatives and the Liberals.
As for respecting the environment, the agreement on the environment is an exact replica of environmental agreements we have signed before, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the Rotterdam Convention on Trade in Hazardous Goods, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Canada and Panama have agreed to not weaken their environmental regulations in order to attract investment, and interested parties must ask the government to investigate suspected violations of environmental regulations. However, it is important to note that there are no financial penalties for non-compliance.
Panama is also a tax haven. In March 2012, Canada and Panama began negotiations on a tax information exchange agreement. However, this agreement has not yet been signed. A lot of money laundering goes on in Panama, particularly with money from drug trafficking. The lack of tax transparency in Panama led the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, to label this country as a tax haven. It is often necessary to know the name of the suspected tax evader in order to obtain tax information from the other country. Governments cannot easily access this information.
Before the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-24, the member for Vancouver Kingsway moved a motion in committee to postpone the implementation of the Canada-Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. Once again, this motion was voted down by the Conservatives and the Liberals.
We want fair trade. In my riding, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, many people buy fair trade coffee. Do my colleagues have any idea what fair trade coffee is?
Panama is the smallest coffee producer in Central America. In the 2000s, the country experienced a coffee crisis. Producers banded together, and Panama's coffee was chosen as the best in the world for the first time in 2004. Fair trade coffee is the result of demand from consumers who all decided to make choices that would ensure that the producers receive fair payment for their product.
With this free trade agreement, we are worried that small producers will not end up processing or marketing their products. There is a very big risk of a third party taking over these steps, thus depriving the producer of the added value when selling the product. It is no easy task to protect one's business in a sector dominated by a handful of large-scale producers, and this is not a fair market.