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 Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

November 7th, 2012 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

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.

She added:

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.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

November 6th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Exactly. On that same day the Conservative government tabled the agreement in the House as Bill C-46. The bill passed second reading and committee stage, but it died on the order paper at the dissolution of the 40th Parliament. The legislation was reintroduced on November 15, 2011 as Bill C-24. So we can hardly be accused of holding this legislation up.

Nonetheless, we are opposing the bill for a number of reasons. When the committee considered Bill C-46, it heard compelling testimony from witnesses about the use of Panama as a tax haven for tax evasion and avoidance. Furthermore, Panama has a poor record on labour rights and the deal's side agreements on labour and the environment are very weak.

I started my speech by saying that with some amendments and more careful consideration of the bill, we could make it a better bill. Here, I hope that someone on the government side asks me a question about the two side agreements, one on labour and one on the environment. If the Conservatives simply put those side agreements into the body of the agreement, then those agreements would have teeth. Those two side deals would have real consequences in this agreement. We would accept that. That would be wonderful and reasonable, but the Conservatives refused to do it.

We are also very concerned that the agreement provides greater rights and powers to foreign investors. That is worrisome given the controversies on the environmental and human rights records of some firms operating in Panama. Recent committee testimony on Bill C-24 confirms that these issues continue to be of concern. Motions and amendments that would address the glaring issues in the agreement were introduced by our critic from Vancouver Kingsway, but were opposed and defeated by the Conservatives and Liberals.

We have tried to make this a bill that we could support. The amendments were reasonable and well thought out, and I will talk about them in a moment. Prior to clause-by-clause review of Bill C-24, our critic from Vancouver Kingsway proposed to the Standing Committee on International Trade a motion that would stop implementation of the Canada-Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement, called TIEA. His motion was defeated.

The Conservatives and Liberals argued that progress was being made in the negotiations under way to sign an agreement. Considering Panama's history and reputation in such matters, it should be clear why such an agreement is necessary before signing a trade deal and why we need to examine its terms to assess its adequacy. The U.S. Congress would not ratify the American free trade agreement with Panama until this was signed.

I do not know what happened behind closed doors with the Conservatives. Perhaps they asked Panama to sign the same kind of agreement the Americans had. Maybe Panama refused, but the point is that the Conservatives have gone ahead without having any sort of agreement signed.

Subsequently, during clause-by-clause review of the bill, our critic proposed several amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. These included the addition of the crucial concepts of sustainable development and sustainable investment, a requirement for taxation transparency, and provisions to incorporate in the bill the protection of labour rights, including the right to collective bargaining. Other amendments would have required the minister of international trade to consult with labour and trade unions, as well as to work with human rights experts and organizations to create impact assessments for this agreement. A final amendment would have required Parliament to vote on extending the provisions of the act after five years. All of these amendments were voted down by the Conservatives, with the help of the Liberals.

The status of labour rights in Panama is a major concern, and it is a complete failure of this trade agreement that it fails to ensure that these rights are not denied to Panamanian workers, as they would have been in the past. Moreover, I reiterate that the side agreements could easily have been incorporated into the body of the agreement. Had that happened, there might have been considerable support from this side of the House for this agreement. There were other amendments that we proposed, but those two are very important.

We did support the free trade agreement with Jordan. We have, at second reading, voted to support trade agreements to get them to committee so that we could offer amendments to make the legislation even better. Canadians expect us to work together in the House to come forward with the absolute best legislation we possibly can. In this and the last Parliament, we have seen legislation from the other side that could have been better if the government had just accepted suggestions and amendments from our side of the House. It could have been legislation that all Canadians could be proud of.

Two of the amendments put forth in committee by our critic would have protected trade union workers in Panama by offering them the right to collective bargaining, as well as requiring the minister of international trade, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama-Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian labour and trade unions. Like all other amendments, these were defeated.

Unfortunately, this creates a free trade zone that belittles the rights of labour. This is a serious problem that is already quite prevalent in Panama. I believe that we had 13 amendments to the bill at committee stage. Not one of them was accepted. The Conservatives and the Liberals had no amendments. We have been working to make these agreements better, but we have not had any success.

In addition, two amendments regarding definitions were proposed by our member from Vancouver Kingsway. The first was regarding 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 was regarding the definition of sustainable investment. The amendment would define 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 labour co-operation agreement is not as strong as it could be. Its enforcement mechanisms are weak, the fines are small, there are no countervailing duties, and there is no provision for abrogation or any such remedy. Quite frankly, it is troubling.

We do want free trade, but we support free trade agreements that expand Canadian exports by reducing harmful barriers to trade. We encourage the development of value-added industries. We believe in creating Canadian jobs by increasing market access to our products; increasing productivity by encouraging new investment; diversifying our exports, especially in emerging markets; and also agreements that help reduce Canada's trade deficit.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

November 6th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague across the way for his very interesting speech. Before deciding to ask him a question, I took the time to look at the timeline of this agreement and how it was discussed in committee.

In the previous Parliament, the government introduced Bill C-46 on the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, which died on the order paper. The government is now introducing Bill C-24 on the same subject. A number of witnesses came to committee to discuss Bill C-46. They said, among other things, that the Republic of Panama was used as a tax haven and that it had a bad record when it comes to workers' rights and environmental protection.

The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway moved a number of motions and amendments to address the most contentious aspects of this agreement, but they were all defeated by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

I am sure that my colleague across the way is just as concerned about tax havens, environmental protection and workers' rights as most Canadians. So why then did the Conservatives not support the NDP's amendments to flesh out Bill C-24?

Third readingCanada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

November 6th, 2012 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on behalf of the citizens of Surrey North to speak to Bill C-24, the proposed free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.

As the Asia-Pacific Gateway critic and someone who is very concerned with Canada's trade deficit, I know my colleagues on the opposite side do not like facts and figures but I am going to give them some. When the Conservatives came into power in 2006, our trade surplus was $25 billion. That is a fact. The Conservatives like to talk about trade and how they want to expand our markets. However, under the Conservative government that $25 billion surplus has turned into a $50 billion deficit. That is the Conservatives' record and they like to talk about numbers. I have gotten that off my chest so I will carry on with my speech.

I am very supportive of an open and progressive approach to trade. That includes building a stronger economy and promoting Canada's interests. Unfortunately this agreement would not fit the bill. I will not be supporting the bill for a number of reasons. Chief among those reasons is that when the bill's previous incarnation, Bill C-46, was studied at the committee stage, we heard very compelling testimony from many witnesses regarding the use of Panama as a tax haven for tax evasion and tax avoidance. Furthermore, Panama has a poor record on labour rights, and the deal's side agreements for labour and the environment are very weak. We are also very concerned that the agreement would provide greater rights and powers to foreign investors. This is worrisome, given controversies regarding the environmental and human rights records of some Canadian mining firms in Panama.

Bill C-24 was studied very briefly at the international trade committee of which I am a member. The testimony we heard confirmed that these issues continue to be of concern today. Motions and amendments that would address these glaring issues in the agreement were introduced by the member for Vancouver Kingsway, our NDP international trade critic, but were opposed and defeated by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.

After studying the situation in Panama more closely, one of my greatest concerns is that while Canada and Panama are in the process of negotiating a tax information exchange agreement, tax disclosure issues have yet to be meaningfully addressed despite protestations to the contrary from the Panamanian government, and undoubtedly the Conservative government, when we raise these issues. It is a major issue that the U.S. Congress refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before signing a tax information exchange agreement.

There are very compelling reasons not to sign the agreement with Panama in the interest of Canadian taxpayers. In 2011, Canada's bilateral trade with Panama represented 0.03%, which is less than 1%, of our overall global trade. The agreement would represent the Conservatives' quantity over quality approach to trade deals. There is no need to rush into an agreement before meaningfully addressing the concerns about Panama being a tax haven.

I will speak in more depth about the tax information exchange agreement because it is very concerning and should cause us to pause before we enter into this agreement with Panama. In March 2012, Canada and Panama entered into the negotiation of a tax information exchange agreement. However, this agreement has not yet been signed. This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money laundering in Panama, including money from drug trafficking, that we heard about at the committee level. Panama's lack of taxation transparency has led the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to label the nation a “tax haven”.

As I said before, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before it signed a tax information exchange agreement. Canadian Parliament should be equally cautious. However, analysis of these agreements indicates that they are highly ineffective in preventing legal avoidance or illegal tax evasion. These agreements typically do not have an automatic information sharing provision, rather an individual request must be made. Furthermore, they generally do not require a partner country to provide the information necessary for determining tax compliance in other nation if it has not been previously created.

Recently, Panama was removed from the so-called OECD “grey list” after substantially implementing the standard for exchange of information when it signed a tax information exchange agreement with France. I believe it has about 14 agreements in place.

At committee, prior to the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-24, my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, proposed a motion to the international trade committee that would stop the implementation of the Canada-Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. I voted in favour of the motion, as did the other New Democrat members of the committee. I supported it because it does not make sense to sign a free trade agreement without a tax information exchange agreement in place.

Unfortunately, the motion was defeated by the Conservatives, along with the Liberals. They argued that progress was being made and negotiations were under way to sign an agreement. I strongly disagree with this line of reasoning. This is putting the cart before the horse. There is no reason to rush the agreement through Parliament. If we in fact are on our way to signing a tax information exchange agreement, why not wait? What is the rush? Why not get that agreement in place before we sign a free trade agreement with a nation that has been known to have money laundering and tax evasion schemes in place? That question has still not been answered by the government.

Considering Panama's history and reputation on such matters, it should be clear why such an agreement is necessary before signing a trade deal and why we need to examine its terms and adequacies. The U.S. Congress would not ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before a tax information exchange agreement was signed. Why should we not have the same basic requirement in Canada? It does not make sense to me and I do not understand why or how it makes sense to the members of the House who intend to vote to pass the bill.

At the committee level, we proposed several reasonable amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. These included the addition of the crucial concepts of sustainable development and sustainable investment, a requirement for tax transparency and provisions to incorporate the protection of labour rights in the bill, including the right to collective bargaining. Other amendments would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult with labour and trade unions, as well as work with human rights experts and organizations in order to create impact assessments for the trade agreement.

There are many amendments. In total 13 were introduced, yet the Conservatives voted them down. They were reasonable amendments that would have made reasonable corrections to some of the things the Conservatives have overlooked in this free trade agreement. The NDP prefers the multilateral approach to trade and supports trade agreements that expand Canadian exports by reducing harmful barriers to trade and encourage the development of value-added industries.

I want to conclude by saying the same thing I started with. The Conservatives' trade record is very poor. When they took over government it was $25 billion in surplus. Now we are $50 billion in deficit. We should look this deal over before passing it.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill today.

This bill started life as Bill C-46 in the last Parliament. The bill came to an end when the election was called. It was introduced in November of this past year and is now called Bill C-24.

I point that out because nothing has changed. There was an opportunity for the government to listen to all the debate, in committee and in this House, on the old bill and to make some adjustments and changes so the rest of the House could find it acceptable, and it did not. As a result, New Democrats continue to oppose this bill, for that reason and a number of others.

In the last Parliament, compelling testimony was heard from witnesses regarding the tax haven situation in the Republic of Panama, as well as the poor record of labour rights in the country. Motions and amendments that would address the glaring issues in the agreement were introduced by our member for Burnaby—New Westminster, but were opposed and defeated by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. The new legislation, despite a new and inspirational short title, does nothing to address the fundamental flaws of its previous manifestation, most importantly the tax disclosure issues that have yet to be meaningfully addressed, despite protestations to the contrary from the Panamanian government, and undoubtedly from the Conservative government, as we raise this issue.

Just before the clause-by-clause review of the old Bill C-46, our member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed to the Standing Committee on Internation Trade a motion that would stop the implementation of the Canada–Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. The member's motion was defeated by both the Conservatives and the Liberals, who argued that the double taxation agreement Panama had agreed to sign was satisfactory.

Unfortunately, the double taxation agreement only tracks legal income, while a tax information exchange agreement would track all income, including that made through illegal means. Considering Panama's history and reputation on such matters, it should be clear why such an agreement is necessary before signing a free trade deal.

Another issue is human rights in Panama and the complete failure of this trade agreement to ensure that these rights would not be denied to Panamanian workers as they have been in the past. Two amendments put forth in committee would have protected trade union workers in Panama by offering the right of collective bargaining as well as requiring the Minister of International Trade, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama–Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian labour and trade unions.

Like all other amendments, these were defeated by the Conservatives and Liberals. Unfortunately, this would create a free trade zone that belittles the rights of labour, a serious problem already prevalent in Panama.

In addition, two amendments regarding definitions were proposed. The first was regarding the definition of sustainable development. The amendment would define 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 was regarding the definition of sustainable investment. The amendment would define sustainable investment as:

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

The NDP prefers a multilateral approach, based on a fair and sustainable trade model. In fact, bilateral trade deals amount to protectionist trade deals, since they give preferential treatment to a few partners and exclude the rest. This puts weaker countries in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis the larger partners. A multilateral fair trade model would avoid these issues while protecting human rights and the environment.

New Democrats reaffirm our vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy.

Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade that builds trading partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights, while also expanding business opportunity.

The federal government should stop exclusively pursuing the NAFTA model at the expense of all other alternatives, and then it should invest in other avenues of trade growth, including, above all, a vigorous trade promotion strategy that builds the Canadian brand abroad, along the lines of the Australian experience.

For example, it is shocking to see that the European Union spends in excess of 500 times more than Canada in promoting one single industry—in this case, its wine industry.

Fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought of trade negotiations. The NDP strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country, one that includes within an overall fair trade strategy the points that follow.

The first is to provide a comprehensive common sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates that trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industry. The government does not sign any trade agreement that would lead to a net job loss.

Second is ensuring that the trade agreements Canada negotiates support Canada's sovereignty and freedom to chart its own policy, support our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage and support the principles of a multilateral fair trade system.

Third is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

The fourth is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.

The fifth is that any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation must be subject to a binding vote on whether or not to accept the terms of the agreement. The current system, which consists of tabling FTAs in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification, is not mandatory and does not bind the government to a decision in the House.

In the last Parliament during the study of the bill, the committee heard testimony from Todd Tucker of the Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Mr. Tucker made a compelling case that Panama is one of the world's worst tax havens and that the Panamanian government has intentionally allowed the nation to become a tax haven. The tax haven situation in Panama is not improving under the current government and conditions in Panama. In addition, a trade agreement with Canada would only worsen the problem and could cause harm to both Panama and to Canada.

Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to the committee regarding the agreement on labour co-operation. She testified that while the International Labour Organization's core labour standards are invoked, the agreement is still weaker than it should be. As well, the current Panamanian government has been increasingly harsh on labour unions and workers in recent years.

It is interesting to note that when my colleague from London West spoke, he indicated that there is some agreement on another trade deal, the Canada-Jordan trade deal.

While New Democrats are not against free trade, we believe it is important that it should always be fair trade. Unfortunately, in this situation it does not happen.

To be fair to the Conservatives, they have moved a little toward the centre. There was a time not so long ago when they would not have even talked about the environment or human rights.

I see my time is up. I look forward to any questions the House may have.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, like many of my colleagues, I am rising in the House today to speak about 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.

As many of my colleagues have already pointed out, Bill C-24 is a new version of a bill that was introduced in the House during the previous Parliament, but that died on the order paper at the time.

In August 2009, the Conservative government entered into negotiations surrounding the future free trade agreement with the Republic of Panama. The agreement also included side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.

This free trade agreement was signed on May 14, 2010, and tabled in the House of Commons as Bill C-46, but the legislative process ended at the clause-by-clause review by the Standing Committee on International Trade.

This same bill is now being reintroduced without any significant improvements over the previous version.

The NDP was opposed to Bill C-46 in the 40th Parliament for the many reasons that have already been enumerated here in this House.

Again, we are going to have to oppose Bill C-24, because there are no provisions in it to remedy the fundamental flaws that have already been cited in this House.

The Canada-Panama agreement negotiated by the Conservative government is in fact only a slightly improved version of the approach to trade taken by former American President George Bush. Once again, in this free trade agreement, big corporations come ahead of the Canadian and Panamanian people, and absolutely nothing is being done to ensure respect for human rights, and very little to protect the environment.

More specifically, it is obvious to my colleagues in the NDP and myself, at least, that there are no provisions in the Canada-Panama agreement to ensure respect for workers’ rights in Panama. If the agreement is ratified by Parliament as it stands, there is absolutely no guarantee that the rights of Panamanian workers will not be flouted as they have so often been in the past.

But honestly, is anyone here surprised by this? If we look at the Conservatives’ record since the May 2, 2011, election, it is clear that workers’ rights are the very last thing on this government’s list of priorities.

In barely a year, they have introduced a record number of bills to force workers back to work and violate their fundamental right to negotiate their conditions of employment in good faith. Given this kind of contempt for the rights of Canadian workers, it is really not surprising that there would be no provisions in the Canada-Panama agreement to protect the rights of Panamanian workers.

My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster had already proposed two amendments at the Standing Committee on International Trade to remedy this major flaw in the bill.

Those amendments would, first, have protected unionized workers in Panama by guaranteeing them the right to bargain collectively, as is the case here in Canada, or at least as it was before this government came to power.

The amendments presented by my colleague would also have forced the Minister of International trade to consult regularly with representatives of Canadian workers and with Canadian unions.

We know that this kind of consultation seems somewhat repugnant to this government, but New Democrat members think this measure is essential before we can ratify a free trade agreement with Panama.

Of course, in spite of Panama’s bad record when it comes to defending workers’ rights, those amendments were naturally defeated by the Conservatives, with the support of the Liberals.

With the Conservatives confirming on a daily basis their bias in favour of businesses and management—with their brutal attacks on workers' basic rights—it was hard to expect a different outcome.

Another major problem with Bill C-24 is the fact that it does not include any measure to prevent tax evasion. It is important to note that the Republic of Panama is still regarded as a tax haven. In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France, recently said so.

Even though these issues were raised by my colleagues during the 40th Parliament, Bill C-24 is still seriously flawed when it comes to tax disclosure.

Despite repeated requests from Canada, the Republic of Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement.

This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money that is laundered in the Republic of Panama, including money from drug trafficking.

The Conservatives are constantly boasting about the importance they attach to law and order in Canada and about the fact that they are prepared to put Canadians in jail for years just because of a few marijuana plants. However, they refuse to do anything to create obstacles for big drug traffickers. It is really impossible to understand this government.

In its present form, Bill C-24 is not acceptable to the NDP. This trade agreement, which is quite similar to NAFTA, unjustly favours multinational corporations at the expense of workers and of the quality of our environment. This type of agreement with various countries that are often at an economic disadvantage compared to Canada, increases social and economic inequalities, while also significantly reducing the quality of life of workers and their families.

The rights of workers all over the world are important to my NDP colleagues and to myself. We cannot, in good conscience, support an agreement that does not do anything to protect the basic rights of the country with which that agreement is reached. We already have enough problems protecting our own Canadian workers against this government, which is barely able to conceal its contempt for their rights. We should not, in addition, start interfering with the rights of workers in Panama. It just makes no sense. We must ensure there are guarantees, so that they can negotiate their collective agreements freely and in good faith, as should be the case in any democratic society.

Since the beginning of the debate on Bill C-24, Conservative members keep repeating the same old arguments dictated by their government, without trying to understand our position on this issue.

My colleagues and I have made speeches in this House that are very clear. Our position on international trade is clear: we believe in the importance of international trade, but it has to be fair, sustainable and equitable trade. It is totally false to say that the NDP does not support international trade. I think I will say that again for the benefit of my colleagues opposite: it is totally false to say that the NDP does not support international trade. We simply believe that the trade agreements being negotiated have to respect and support the principles of social justice, sustainable development and human rights, which is not to say that we have to neglect the need to expand our trading opportunities.

We are aware that Canada has to trade with other countries; to import and to export. That is the system we are in. That is how things work and we are very aware of these realities. However, my colleagues and I in the NDP do not think that Canada's economic prosperity needs to come at the expense of workers' rights in other countries, people who are less fortunate than we are and who do not enjoy all the freedoms we had before this Conservative government came on the scene. We can indeed see that the rights to free association and to collective bargaining are fading away as the weeks go by.

It is completely absurd and false to say that the NDP wants to close our borders to commercial products from other countries. We do believe, however, that the government should stop focusing exclusively on the NAFTA model and should remain open to exploring other possible solutions to establish trade ties with other countries.

We must ensure that Canada puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public-sector social programs and the fight against poverty at the heart of its trade strategy. As soon as this government presents us with a free trade agreement that respects the principles of social justice and sustainable development, we would be pleased to support and vote in favour of such a bill. So far, however, we have yet to see such a thing in the history of Canada. The Liberals did not present any such agreements, nor have the Conservatives.

So, until that time, we will continue to oppose them. However, there is still time to amend this bill and ensure that the principles of social justice, sustainable development and the fight against poverty are respected.

I invite my Conservative colleagues to reflect on this and remain open to the kind of amendments that my colleagues are proposing.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

José Nunez-Melo NDP Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to say a little bit about Bill C-24 on the implementation of the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

As you are aware, the NDP is strongly opposed to this agreement because of all its deficiencies and inconsistencies. It is based on the former Bill C-46, which was not passed in the previous Parliament. Let us remember the proposals and amendments suggested by our colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster. He submitted 11 amendments without success and the bill was never passed.

In this Parliament, the Conservative caucus decided to introduce this bill again as Bill C-24. Among other things, the Conservatives proposed that, for tax purposes, Panama should still be considered a tax haven. This is unacceptable in the eyes of the global financial community. The Conservatives are sending the message that we are not asking any questions and that we are not imposing any constraints on countries regarding the disclosure of useful or important tax information. It seems that the negotiators of this type of agreement have not shown the importance of this and have not sent the message to the officials negotiating for the other countries involved—such as Panama in this case—that this was perhaps not a binding requirement for signing this agreement. As we know, these countries have refused to disclose this financial information. It would appear that the Canadian negotiators said that there was no problem and that negotiations could continue.

Our country places a great deal of importance on workers’ rights, as demonstrated by all the collective agreements signed throughout Canada, by the existence of unions and by legislation that permits free collective bargaining. However, the hon. members can see for themselves what is happening right now, in our country.

The Conservatives want to sign a free trade agreement with a country where there are few guarantees that there will be at least minimal respect for the working conditions of employees. In reality, that is not a binding condition, either. It sends the wrong message. In fact, Panama can say in return that it understands very clearly that, in reality, the aim of this free trade agreement is just to grant certain advantages to mining companies, oil companies or Canadian casinos. These companies will be able to operate more profitably, considering the competitive advantage they will obtain from the lower wages and all goods that they can purchase more cheaply.

The countries that should be our partners have flatly refused to sign this agreement. However, this tax information exchange agreement was one of the critical points in the negotiations that Panama entered into with European countries. The OECD has made a number of statements and has even drawn up grey lists and black lists and lists of every colour imaginable in order to categorize certain countries whose economies are dysfunctional.

However, as everyone knows, the result of this is that there was never really a positive agreement between Panama and Europe, and particularly between Panama and France. Now, Canada comes along and wants to be the sheriff. It wants to sign a free trade agreement and it tells Panama what it must commit to do. It also tells Panama that what it is asking for in return is negotiable in a very unfair fashion.

Recently, I was stunned to hear a member of this House call one of our colleagues on this side a pompous socialist, because that member thought the New Democratic Party was fiercely opposed to international trade. It does not make any sense. We were misunderstood. That is really misquoting and mischaracterizing what we want to propose, or what was already proposed on numerous occasions by our colleagues in this House.

When it comes to trade, I feel that all the proposals made by the New Democratic Party are good. These include: protecting the environment and workers' rights—and I will say it again—and total honesty regarding the financial information that must be shared to avoid shenanigans. International trade is plagued by money transfers, money laundering and similar activities.

Our dear colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, proposed amendments, but the Conservatives and the Liberals always refused to accept them. At the time, there was a deadlock because we were proposing to secure “win-win” free trade agreements, instead of “win-lose” agreements like this one.

As for the member who called our colleague a pompous socialist, it is all a matter of interpretation, because if I said the opposite, they would then be deemed to be imperialists and even colonialists. That is all part of history and those days are over.

As we will see, international trade will evolve in a way where good faith will prevail, followed by everything related to financial interests and to profits from that trade.

Instead of collecting interests or buying bank drafts, we are going to go back to the ancient basic form of trade, namely the trading of natural resources for another form of financial resources.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Nycole Turmel NDP Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today 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.

I would like to make something clear at the outset. We oppose this bill. In the NDP, we do not want a free trade zone where workers’ rights are sold at discount prices; that is already a serious problem in Panama. Nor do we want a bill without a clear definition of sustainable development and responsible investment.

I would like to remind the House that when the committee considered the predecessor to Bill C-24, Bill C-46, it heard persuasive testimony that the Republic of Panama is a tax haven and that its record on human rights is debatable, to say the least. The situation has not changed since then.

Bill C-24 has a new title but does nothing to address the fundamental shortcomings of its predecessor. It does not incorporate the amendments moved by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster, which would have addressed the most contentious aspects of the agreement. During the clause-by-clause study of Bill C-46, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed 11 amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill.

The changes proposed by our member concerned the addition of the crucial concepts of sustainable development and responsible investment, the obligation of fiscal transparency and some provisions that would have integrated into the bill the protection of workers' rights, especially the right to collective bargaining. Other amendments proposed by my colleague would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult workers and unions, and to work with experts and human rights organizations in order to conduct analyses of the impact of the trade agreement. All these amendments were rejected by the Conservatives with the support of the Liberals.

There are many reasons why we cannot vote in favour of Bill C-24. First of all, the Canada-Panama agreement, which follows the NAFTA model, puts large corporations before people. That is unacceptable. Agreements like NAFTA were initially designed for trade between highly industrialized, developed countries, but Panama is a developing country. This trade agreement will not help Panama to grow sustainably or improve the living conditions of its people. Instead, the agreement will increase the influence of multinational firms and increase inequalities, and this will happen much faster and more definitively than it did in the case of NAFTA.

Furthermore, this trade agreement does not create a level playing field for investors and workers. Under chapter 11, investors have the right to request compulsory arbitration that they can conduct independently, however a union in Panama would not be allowed to take a case to arbitration. It can file a complaint, which would lead to an investigation followed by a report, but it would be up to the government to seek and obtain remedies.

In addition, the Canada-Panama agreement does not ensure respect for human rights. Also, while Bill C-24 appears to protect the environment on the surface, it does not implement any real measures or mechanisms to resolve disputes. We also have to wonder about the degree of Panama's fiscal transparency. It is important to bear in mind that, despite the Canadian government's requests, Panama refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement.

We believe that Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade that builds partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights, without ignoring the need to broaden trade opportunities.

The federal government needs to stop focusing exclusively on NAFTA-type free trade agreements at the expense of other options, and it should explore other ways of increasing trade, in particular by adopting a vigorous trade promotion strategy, one that would spread Canada's brand abroad the way Australia has succeeded in doing.

The NDP firmly believes that there is another, better model of trade relations that could be established with Panama or any other country, a model that would include the following in a global fair trade strategy.

First, it should include a comprehensive and rational impact analysis for all international agreements, to determine whether the trade agreements being negotiated by Canada are advantageous to Canadian families, Canadian workers and Canadian industries. The government should not sign any trade agreement that is likely to lead to a net loss of jobs. Once again, that is unacceptable.

Second, there should be a guarantee that the trade agreements Canada negotiates will strengthen Canada's sovereignty and its freedom to establish its own policies, that they will help make us a force to be reckoned with on the world stage and that they support the principles of a fair multilateral trade system.

Third, there is the fundamental principle according to which all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any products considered to have been manufactured in sweatshops, by forced labour, or under any other conditions that do not meet basic international standards for labour or human rights.

Fourth, the model includes the fundamental principle according to which all trade agreements should be consistent with sustainable development, as well as the integrity of all ecosystems.

Fifth, every time the government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to adopt the enabling legislation must be submitted to a mandatory vote on whether or not the terms of the agreement are acceptable.

The current system, which consists of tabling a free trade agreement in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification, is not mandatory and does not bind the government to accept a decision of the House.

I am now ready to answer questions.

Canada–Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

May 28th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from St. John's East, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-24 at second reading. This bill deals with the implementation of 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.

It is certainly clear that we feel proud every time we see agreements. We feel that other countries want to trade and do business with us. All this seems really nice on paper. On the other hand, sometimes there are little surprises in the fine print. While I cannot claim that I am a specialist in international trade, there are some basic things that we, as a free and democratic country, should insist on when we do business with other countries. This is one of the reasons why our party is opposed to this bill. It is not because we are against international agreements, free trade agreements or attempts to try to remove trade barriers between countries. In fact, if we believe in certain values, I think we must make sure that the countries with whom we do business are not rogue countries or countries that mistreat their people in order to acquire, create, build, produce or manufacture articles that will be freely traded with our country.

I think that when we have principles, we must express them all the way. If not, we should stop going around the world saying that we defend rights and freedoms, and we should just go ahead and do whatever we want.

For those who do not know much about Bill C-24, it is a bill that was previously introduced, if memory serves, on August 11, 2009. The Conservative government had entered into negotiations on a comprehensive agreement with the Republic of Panama. The same day it signed that agreement, the Conservative government presented the agreements in the House of Commons as part of Bill C-46. This was back in 2010. The bill was passed at second reading and referred to the Standing Committee on International Trade for clause-by-clause consideration.

If you followed the speech by my colleague from St. John's East, you know that international trade is one of his passions. I would like to take this opportunity to commend him. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster also worked extremely hard on this issue and his advice was always very wise. He showed us the importance of conducting what is called reasonable and fair trade when these kinds of agreements are negotiated with other countries. Responsibility for this file was passed on to the member for Windsor West, who has also done excellent work.

I think it is important to listen, instead of simply playing cheap politics, as is frequently the case in this House. On the government side, they reduce the speeches made on this side of the House to one-liners, as if the NDP were anti-international trade or anti-free trade just because we ask questions and we ask that the countries with whom we do business do not, for instance, use child labour or exploit children as cheap labour, because we ask questions about specific environmental rules or because we ask that these countries not be obvious tax havens.

I was absolutely shocked when I read about the circumstances surrounding Bill C-24 in a little more depth and when I noted that Panama—which is, by the way, a very beautiful country—is what some people call a tax haven. On both sides of the House, there are people who rise frequently to say that we must try to put an end to anything that is called a tax haven. The problems with tax havens do not just occur away down there; their impact reaches into our country. Considerable amounts of money are taken and sent somewhere else to be hidden because certain countries have rules that are a little too lax. They allow any kinds of company throughout the world to go to their country and hide money from the government in the company's own home country.

Even the OECD has called Panama a tax haven. The United States considers Panama to be a tax haven. The OECD even specified that Panama was on the grey list. I learned there is a white list, a fray list and a black list. I have learned about a great number of things in this House. I also like it when we have the time to express our views on all these bills that often have, unbeknownst to us, an impact on all our constituents, in every one of our ridings.

We have a tendency to believe that when we talk about international trade, we are talking primarily about major trading centres within a country. However, when we do business with certain countries and give them certain privileges with regard to our goods and our services, it has an impact on all our population. Sometimes we have to look at the ramifications of this type of bill.

It is really worrying that a country like Panama still refuses to send information about its tax measures and about various issues and fields, and I am surprised. Although sometimes I am not surprised when we know that we are dealing with a government that is so lacking in transparency. The government may be happy to deal with a country that also has little fiscal transparency, but on this side of the House, we are not.

We definitely do not want to see that country become a place where some of our companies doing business there shelter money from taxation. All MPs should be concerned about that. We are debating a back-to-work bill because the government wants to force people to accept a collective agreement or poorer working conditions, but at the same time, it wants to carry on international trade with a country that allows big companies that make millions or billions in profits to diversify some of their income in order to avoid paying taxes, taxes that enable the government to provide services to Canadians.

I think it is inappropriate and simplistic for MPs on the other side of the House to ask whether the NDP has ever supported a free trade agreement. Bilateral agreements have taken the place of broad territorial agreements. Still, talks are under way between my province, Quebec, and the European Union. Every nation is trying to open its borders to ensure that its goods and services can circulate and be purchased. Once again though, we have to remember how that money is made, and I am proud to be a member of a party that is concerned about making money without having a negative effect on trade. There are ways to do that.

If these people are truly interested in doing business with us, then it is up to them to follow the rules of human decency. For example, I am extremely concerned about the whole section of the agreement concerning labour. When certain people see the number of times this government has resorted to back-to-work legislation, they could simply say that we are in no position to preach. What bothers me is that we are doing business with countries who do not pay much attention to the rights of workers and of those who, by the sweat of their brow, make things that we all take a great deal of pleasure in using.

To conclude, I am happy to have had the opportunity to comment on this bill. I am in favour of international trade, but not at any price.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2012 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues have made it clear that we oppose this bill for a number of very good reasons.

When the committee looked at the previous bill on free trade with Panama, Bill C-46, we heard convincing testimony about the fact that the Republic of Panama was a tax haven and about its poor record on workers' rights. We proposed motions and amendments that would have corrected the worst parts of the agreement, but the Conservatives and the Liberals both rejected our proposals. We are disappointed that the new bill, despite its inspiring new short title, has not fixed the fundamental shortcomings of its predecessor or introduced tax disclosure provisions.

The government will no doubt say that we oppose this bill because the NDP opposes all trade, but I am here to say that that is not true. The difference between the Conservatives and the NDP is that we believe that the economy should serve the people, not the other way around.

Their faith is in capitalism; our faith is in man. That is what truly separates us. With this principle in mind, free trade is not a good in and of itself but a means to an end, one that serves the interests of the majority of human beings and not a minority of wealthy people. As one of our old slogans goes, put humanity first.

However, I am personally willing to concede that trade is part of the march of history. I would even go so far as to say that trade makes the world smaller and can help bring humanity closer together, which is always a good thing. Man has too long suffered from tribalism, and what unites us is far more fundamental than what separates us. If I may use a metaphor, it is about time we undo the loss of family caused by the arrogance of the Tower of Babel.

However, history has proven that free trade does not automatically mean greater prosperity for the majority or greater rights. Free trade can also tear us apart. Must I remind my colleagues across the aisle that we are still living with the terrible ramifications of 19th century colonialism, that colonialism did not bring us closer together but rather has created deep cleavages and violence, which we are still trying to repair today, and that the major justification of colonialism was freer trade?

However, as progressives we cannot get in the way of the march of history. Having said that, these economic forces are not deterministic and there has always been a subjective element to them. Man has made decisions to engage in trade in particular ways, and better decisions must be made. These economic forces should not be viewed as the Titans of Greek myth, terrible chaotic forces that cannot be controlled. On the contrary, they are forces we must harness to make the world a better place. Olympus must prevail after all.

Therefore, free trade must also be fair trade and must help solve the deep-rooted inequalities between the developed and underdeveloped world, the rich and the poor, the northern and southern hemispheres. We simply cannot allow free trade to exacerbate existing divisions or, worse, create new ones between peoples. We cannot be so naive as to believe that Canadian companies, like companies all over the world whose raison d'être is profit, do not see a particular pecuniary advantage in doing business in countries whose labour standards are lower. I am convinced that if we ask most Canadians whether their government should sign trade deals with another country because some influential companies would like to have access to cheaper labour, where fellow human beings are not paid a decent wage and where dirty money can be laundered, they would say that is simply not fair.

The reality is that there are many Canadian companies behaving badly all around the world, in Africa, Jordan and Latin America, and it is misplaced patriotism to defend them. However, what if we create a situation where free trade and fair trade can work together; where free trade can assure social progress is maintained and enhanced with those countries we trade with; where more prosperity and not more exploitation is the result; where the gap between rich and poor is rendered smaller; where the environment is respected? Is this not the ideal of trade?

The problem is that the bill does not do enough to secure everyone's prosperity and protect their fundamental rights. For instance, it should have protected unionized workers in Panama by giving them the right to collective bargaining and requiring the Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama-Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian and Panamanian labour and trade unions. Unfortunately, the fact is that a free trade zone would do nothing to protect workers' rights, and this is already a serious problem in Panama.

As for sustainable development, a clause needs to be added that meets the needs of a free trade agreement in 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 problem is that protecting the environment is difficult in Panama.

In order to be considered responsible, an investment must 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. A responsible investment should help to put an end to tax havens that allow money from illegal drug trafficking to be laundered.

Unfortunately, this bill does very little to correct these problems. It is simply not enough. Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of reciprocal, sustainable and equitable trade, trade that builds partnerships with other countries that uphold human rights principles, while recognizing the need to expand market opportunities. The federal government should stop focusing exclusively on the NAFTA model and remain open to other possible solutions.

Panama is not like the United States or Europe. The government should explore other means of expanding trade by coming up with a vigorous trade promotion strategy that will set the standard for a fairer society for the rest of the world. Fair and equitable trade should be the overarching principle, and not just an afterthought, in all trade negotiations between the Canadian government and other countries.

The NDP strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country. Such a trade agreement would involve a comprehensive trade strategy whereby the fundamental principle of negotiation would be the defence and protection of human rights. It would prohibit the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been manufactured under sweatshop conditions, using forced child labour, or under other conditions that are inconsistent with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

In the NDP's vision, all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems. That is a fundamental principle. This positive and decent vision puts humanity at the centre of our concerns. Let us build a better future for everyone in our trade relations with other countries.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-24. Back on February 7, 2011, I spoke to the bill when it was Bill C-46. Sadly, the concerns I raised then have not been addressed.

I also want to acknowledge the very good work that has been done by the member for Windsor West and the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. Back in those days, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed a number of amendments to the free trade agreement, including amendments that would deal with some of the issues around sustainable development and investment. The government did not see fit to incorporate these amendments.

As well, that bill had gone to committee, had some extensive review and had a number of concerns raised around labour, human rights and the investment climate. Again, none of those concerns were taken into consideration when the bill was resubmitted to the House.

Members can probably gather by the tenor of my introduction that the NDP is opposed to this bill for a number of reasons. One of those concerns is the poor record of labour rights in the country. I did mention the fundamental flaws that were addressed by amendments proposed by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

The government talked about taking on tax havens. However, one of the most glaring flaws in the agreement is that tax disclosure issues have yet to be meaningfully addressed, despite protestations to the contrary by the Panamanian government.

Often in the House we will hear members opposite talk about the NDP never seeing a trade agreement that it liked, and it is for a very good reason. In fact, we have actually supported a trade agreement. However, what comes up consistently is the fact that the government continues to negotiate trade agreements that do not take into consideration the social and economic justice that we think is fundamental to what should be included in them.

The government also does not negotiate these agreements in an open and transparent way. We only have to look at what is happening currently with the CETA agreement. I know that I and many members of the House get numerous emails about the fact that this agreement has been negotiated behind closed doors, that we do not know what the impact will be on our agricultural communities, on pharmaceuticals, on access to natural health products and that our municipalities may be hampered in their procurement processes.

This is just an example of an agreement that could have a very far-reaching impact, and yet Canadians have no input. They have no ability to get at the very meat of what the agreement is about.

When we talk about how we should negotiate these agreements, Panama would have been a great start to having a fair trade agreement versus a free trade agreement. One of the fundamental principles is fair trade. I want to talk about some of those principles and what is absent in the Panamanian agreement.

This is an older article, but I thought it did a very good job of outlining the principles of fair trade. It is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Richard Tarnoff, in October 2004. In this article he says:

While the principles of “fair trade” have been around for a long time, and are primarily based on ideas of human rights and economic justice, the fair trade movement is a relatively recent development. To a large degree, it is a response to the rapid growth in the global economy, in which more and more of what we consume is being produced in Third World countries, where labour and environmental standards are low or non-existent.

He talks about both the principles of fair trade and the fair trade movement. Many of us are very familiar with the fair trade movement. Many of us, when we go to buy our coffee, look to see if it is fair trade certified. There are also principles that apply to fair trade when negotiating these kinds of international agreements.

Tarnoff goes on to say:

One response to this situation has been the effort by labour, environmental and human rights organizations to have minimum standards included in trade agreements. Sometimes described as the demand for “fair trade rules,” these efforts have been vigorously opposed by the multinational corporations for the obvious reason that this is what makes production in Third World countries so profitable.

When he talks about profitable, he talks about how, in these countries, people are paid grim wages, not remotely close to living wages, often in desperate working conditions. Canadians benefit from those kinds of working conditions. We would not want to see any of our neighbours, our children, our brothers or sisters working in those kinds of conditions. Yet because we continue to negotiate the kinds of trade agreements that are before us today, we continue to profit from somebody else's misery.

I will not go over all the principles of fair trade that he outlined, but I want to touch on a couple. I can imagine Canadians listening to this would say that this makes absolute sense, that a trade principle should be that there would be no forced labour and exploitive child labour. It makes sense. We would not want to see young children working 10, 12 hours a day in hot, overcrowded conditions with no lunch breaks, no adequate remuneration. Never mind remuneration, why would we exploit them in the first place children? Most Canadians would agree that makes sense.

What about encouraging sustainable production techniques? It would make sense that when we import agricultural products from countries, we would want to ensure that they would be sustainable, that they would not use the kinds of pesticides not accepted in Canada, that their workers would be protected from access and that they would have all the safety standards and safety equipment needed so when they handled pesticides and herbicides, they would not become ill. The life expectancy of many farm workers in developing countries is so low it is embarrassing.

Another principle is that working conditions be healthy and safe. That just makes sense. Too many of us have heard the horror stories about children who have been trapped in factories as they have burned down because there are no exit doors. They have long days with no breaks, working seven days a week and not having adequate living conditions when they leave those factories. Working conditions that are healthy and safe just make sense.

Another principle is that equal employment opportunities be provided. This means women have access to good paying jobs, that they are not disadvantaged, that they have access to management jobs in some of these factories and that all aspects of trade and productions are open to public accountability.

Recently we saw the backlash against Apple when it turned out that some of the factories producing some of its component parts were not open and public and that the public was demanding the kind of a accountability to ensure workers were not being taken advantage of.

This is a bit of an aside, but it does link to the trade agreements. Tarnoff goes on to say:

It is not only Third World farmers who have become victims to the economics of globalization. Many small farmers in Canada and the U.S. have found themselves struggling to survive in markets dominated by giant corporations. One solution has been the development of a type of “fair trade” called Community Shared Agriculture, in which urban customers enter into agreements to have a local grower supply them with all their produce for the year. So far, over 1,000 farms in North America have made this arrangement.

When we talk about sustainability, ensuring that there is not exploitive practices, Canadians can support our local farmers, get to know them and buy their produce. Community shared agriculture is a way to ensure that farmers stay in business, especially the smaller farmers.

My riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan has a number of CSA farmers, and I am proud to be one of their supporters. We also have a fisherman who has taken the initiative to have a community supported fishery, so he does the same thing as the agriculture sector. He sells shares in advance so he can ensure he has a livelihood to support himself and his family. That is the kind of community supported agriculture we should encourage both in Canada and in countries with which we develop trade practices.

He goes on in this article, and there has been criticisms from the multinationals about any concept of fair trade, to talk about some typical criticism that have come from some of the mainstream economists. He mentions Professor John Ikerd, professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics. He said it was interesting that when economics laws and theories about fair trade being ethically right and being social justice, how suddenly the multinationals and their friends talked about how harmful it would be for the economy.

We need to do a much better job of incorporating principles in trade that are not just about the bottom line. There has to be a social justice component of it so that workers and their families have access to adequate wages and income, that the environment is not damaged and that there is a reasonable and fair distribution of wealth.

I encourage all members of the House to vote against this legislation and send the government back to the drawing board so it can come back with a fair trade agreement, not a free trade agreement.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

March 29th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on Bill C–24, a bill to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, signed in May 2010, and the related agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.

I remind members that the predecessor to this bill, Bill C–46, died on the order paper when the 40th Parliament was dissolved, because the Conservative minority government was unable to get the bill passed by a parliamentary majority. Today, emboldened by its parliamentary majority, the government is trying to foist this bill on Canadians despite the fact that 60% of Canadians voted against this government.

Allow me to briefly remind members why this agreement is at the root of so much controversy.

To begin with, there is the issue of tax evasion. Panama is known as a tax haven because it offers taxation advantages to non-resident investors. It provides foreign banks and companies with extraterritorial licenses that allow them to conduct business in Panama. Not only are these companies not taxed, they are subject to very few, if any, obligations.

The local authority's soft line on taxation, banking and legal matters has enabled this country of three million inhabitants to become the financial centre of Central America, with the second largest naval fleet in the world due to ships flying flags of convenience. Shipowners choose this flag because of how unrestrictive it is in terms of taxation, safety and crew labour rights.

As everybody knows, the Republic of Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement with Canada. That is very worrying given the high volume of money laundering activities in Panama, especially money from drug trafficking. There is no fiscal transparency in Panama, which in the past has led to the OECD and G20 labelling Panama a tax haven.

In the opinion of Alain Deneault and Claude Vaillancourt, from Attac-Québec—a group that combats tax havens and fights in favour of taxing financial transactions—Panama is certainly one of the tax havens that is the most active, the least co-operative, and the most closely tied to organized crime. I quote:

Panama's bad reputation is certainly well-deserved. This country's main economic activity is to provide financial services to drug traffickers and multinationals.

Moreover, Patrice Meysonnier of France's judicial police has no hesitation calling Panama a narco-state that is responsible for laundering a large share of the planet's dirty money.

Closer to home, we know that certain Hells Angels leaders in Quebec, who have been on a wanted list since the beginning of Opération SharQc, have taken refuge in Panama. They moved to Panama because they have been able to launder large sums of money there and they hope that the local authorities will not unduly harass them.

On one hand, I find it particularly ironic that this government, which calls itself tough on crime, would enter into a free trade agreement with a country that has become a shelter for criminals and their money without at least first obtaining a fiscal and banking co-operation agreement.

On the other hand, while this government prepares to table an austerity budget this afternoon, and is calling on Canadian families to tighten their belts, how can the government facilitate the erosion of the Canadian tax base by signing such an accommodating treaty?

While members of the G20 have stressed the importance of dealing with the problems caused by tax havens, once again the Conservative government is reneging on its word and doing the exact opposite by opening up a new front to facilitate tax leakage. Honestly, what a farce.

Another problem with this bill is that the Canada–Panama trade agreement has no mechanism to protect the rights of workers that have so often been flouted in the past. Allow me to provide a couple of examples from last year, 2011.

Thirty-three employees of Panama Gaming & Services were laid off for trying to start a union. The Panamanian government did nothing to help them. These layoffs constitute a blatant violation of workers' rights and, more specifically, a violation of the International Labour Organization's Convention 87, which pertains to freedom of association and the protection of the right to organize, a convention that Panama has ratified.

Here is another example.

On July 8, 2011, security forces used violence to end a union demonstration, leaving at least six dead and 700 injured. Several hundred people were also arrested. The freedom to demonstrate was clearly violated.

The government regularly uses intimidation tactics on union leaders. For example, in the summer of 2011, the under secretary general of a large construction union was arbitrarily arrested and detained for a week. And that is not to mention all the anti-union laws passed by the country's current government.

It is important to remember that the right to strike is prohibited in the Canal Zone and that the government recently passed legislation to undermine the rights and freedoms of public servants. In the public sector, the minimum number of workers required to form a union was increased to 50 in order to make it more difficult to do so.

By signing a free trade agreement with Panama without requiring the country to take concrete action to protect the right of association and the right to strike, Canada is condoning the Panamanian government's actions.

I suppose that we cannot expect any better from this Conservative government, which, even here at home, has taken action that violates workers' rights. We need only think about the special bill that the government recently passed to suspend the right to strike of 3,000 pilots and 8,600 mechanics, baggage handlers and cargo agents who work for Air Canada. Bill C-33 was a fundamental attack on the right to freely negotiate a collective agreement.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the agreement is found in the chapter on investment. In fact, chapter 9 is modelled on chapter 11 of NAFTA, which allows a corporation to sue a government for creating barriers to trade by implementing a regulation.

According to Todd Tucker of Public Citizen, who appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade on November 17, 2010.

....hundreds of thousands of U.S., Chinese, Cayman, and even Canadian corporations that can attack Canadian regulations by using aggressive nationality planning through their Panamanian subsidiaries.

I am very concerned that major foreign multinationals will be able to have trade tribunals challenge and perhaps even invalidate a decision made by a democratically elected government or parliament in order to protect public health or the environment, for example.

In the previous Parliament, the NDP presented a series of amendments in an attempt to address these shortcomings. Our colleague for Burnaby—New Westminster suggested adding provisions on sustainable investment, a requirement for fiscal transparency and provisions to incorporate workers' rights, especially the right to collective bargaining, into the bill. All these amendments were voted down by the Conservatives, with the support of the Liberals. This time we hope that the government will look more favourably on our amendments. I would like to recognize the work of my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster in this matter.

Unlike the Conservative government, which has its sights set only on trade and profits, the NDP is proposing a trade policy that is fair and based on social justice and sustainable development. We want everyone, and not just big corporations, to benefit from economic development.

We believe that Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade, trade that builds partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights without ignoring the need to develop trade opportunities.

I know that I have just one minute remaining and I will close by speaking of the five pillars of the NDP's fair trade strategy.

First, we are proposing that an impact analysis of all international trade agreements be carried out in order to determine whether or not trade agreements negotiated by Canada benefit Canadian families, workers and industries.

Second, we are proposing that there be a guarantee that trade agreements negotiated by Canada strengthen Canada's sovereignty and its freedom to establish its own policy.

Third is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights, which Canadians deem essential.

All trade agreements should also respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems. Last, any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation must be voted on in the House of Commons.

I will take questions now.

Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity ActGovernment Orders

December 12th, 2011 / 1 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak 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.

I mentioned the full title because I do believe that very important parts of this agreement, and ones we have been pushing for a long time, are the side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. Whether they are strong enough at the end of the day, that is certainly something at which the committee will have to have a more in-depth look.

For years, various trade agreements have left out the important points of labour and the environment. It is unconscionable that in a trade agreement we would ask our businesses to compete on so-called fair free trade with other countries, where there are abuses of labour, low paid labour, and regulations on the environment, others do not. It is important to use these trade agreements to bring up labour and environmental standards around the world.

The trade agreement with Panama, though, is yet another example of the government pursuing new arrangements at the expense of established agreements. The most recent indication that the government is better at talking about the significance of trade while ignoring the practical matter of securing our trade with countries we have been trading with for a long time is demonstrated by the most recent trade statistics.

This past Friday, Stats Canada indicated that our merchandise exports declined by 3% and imports increased by 1.9%. Our trade balance, again, slipped into deficit.

While we are getting all kinds of talk from the government and the member for London West earlier in his remarks when asking a question of the parliamentary secretary talked about how aggressive the government is in securing trade agreements. Yes, it is aggressive. There is no question about that. However, it is aggressive in flitting all around the world trying to establish agreements with any number of countries, not big players in terms of actual trade, but while it is doing that, it is ignoring the countries with which we already have established trading relationships, especially the United States.

The government's mismanagement of Canada's trading relationships has resulted in trade deficits for the first time in 30 years, and that is worrisome.

Yes, while we support this particular trade agreement, we believe the government is failing over all in terms of a trade agenda around the world, basically by ignoring the key market that we trade with, which is the United States. In that market, in terms of the value of trade on a daily basis, more than $1.4 billion is traded between Canada and the United States. According to the international trade publication of Canada's State of Trade 2011, in 2010 the United States market accounted for 74.9% of our merchandise exports, and by 2040, according to the trade department itself, the U.S. share of Canada's exports will be 75.5%.

That regardless of the diversification of trade, even this government acknowledges, in its own documentation, that the United States is and will remain the dominant trading party of this country.

I express that because of all the propaganda and rhetoric we are getting from the government. It talks about a new trade deal here a new trade deal there. It is negotiating Panama today, but it is ignoring our established markets, and that point has to be made.

So yes, while the Conservatives sign the agreements, and they can add up the numbers, the fact of the matter is that they are failing Canadians on the trade agenda, especially with the United States of America.

In terms of merchandise trade, in 2010 Canada exported $339.4 billion internationally. The vast majority of our merchandise trade was with 10 countries, which, in descending order, were: the United States, accounting for 74.9%; the United Kingdom, 4.1%; China, 3.3%; and then Japan, Mexico, Germany, Korea, Netherlands and Brazil.

It is sad to say that we are now starting to lose ground in the Korean market, which is one of those top 10. The United States has just signed a free trade agreement with Korea and the tariffs to the United States will come down.

Korea is a huge market for Canadian pork and beef. However, the discussions between Canada and South Korea just seemed to have dried up. I do not know whether it is a dispute or whether the Minister of International Trade is trading off Canadian pork producers because the Minister of Finance is so concerned about the auto industry that is in his backyard.

The government has to come together and balance, in an auto-pact kind of way, in order to protect the Canadian car industry, which the Minister of Finance clearly wants to do as it is in his own backyard. However, the Minister of International Trade has to stand up to the Minister of Finance and say that Canadian pork and beef exports to Korea, where we trade over $1 billion in that market now, are important too.

Every day from here on, with the United States tariffs coming down, we are going to start to lose our Korean market share. It will go up for the United States and down for Canada. It is time that the Minister of International Trade stood up for Canadian pork producers in that particular market.

This is not Panama, but is an important market and we have to pull the whole trade agenda into context. Panama is important, but it is extremely important that we not lose markets wherein we have already established a market share.

Canada is a trade dependent nation with 80% of our economy depending on access to foreign markets for Canadian exports. The Liberal Party supports the principle of free trade. We support initiatives that improve market access for Canadian business.

To look back at how we got into some of these established markets, we see a failing with the current government. Prime Minister Chrétien led trade missions, sometimes with premiers and businesses, to China and other countries around the world to establish and expand the trading relationship. That is not happening with the present Prime Minister. The trade minister seems to be flying around the world, but as I said, we are losing established markets. We cannot continue to allow that to happen.

The international trade committee studied Bill C-46 in the previous Parliament and consulted with stakeholders to ensure that the agreement was generally good for Canada. The committee travelled to Panama and I believe to Jordan as well. I congratulate the committee on its work.

However, I agree with the parliamentary secretary that we do not need to go through that broad hearing process again. It is on the record and we can look at it. I think there are other issues that we need to look at as a committee in order to do our work, but we do not need to repeat what was already done. I would hope that we can give this piece of legislation relatively quick passage in the House.

Panama has a relatively small economy. In 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to the country. It is, however, a stable country which has made significant progress in recent years in terms of development and democracy, which Canada is well placed to encourage.

Some of the exports that have great potential in Panama, such as fish, shellfish, french fry potatoes and agriculture products, do come from my region of the country, so the agreement should be good for some businesses and farmers in my own particular region.

I would like to put this into perspective. While this is a very worthwhile venture, the Conservative government has been lagging behind our competitors in important emerging markets like China and India, and this has been mentioned by previous speakers, and has only recently attempted to engage in those markets. Canada should be focusing its trade agenda on larger growing markets where there are more opportunities for Canadian businesses and Canadian employers.

The Conservative government has been failing, and I underline that, to protect Canadian interests vis-à-vis our largest trading partner, the United States. The United States is engaging in increasing protectionism, which has already hurt Canadian businesses, yet the Conservative government seems to be doing virtually nothing.

Time and again we have asked the Minister of International Trade about the buy American issue, and he has surprised and disappointed us. We asked him about the additional fees on products going by sea and air into the United States, and he surprised and disappointed us.

Against the rule of law and undermining democracy, the Canadian government is trying to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board, and the bill may pass through the Senate tonight against the ruling of the Federal Court and against the rule of law.

To the disadvantage of producers in this country, the government is giving to the Americans, undermining democracy in the process. The Americans have challenged Canada 14 times with respect to that particular agency. Canada won every time and now the government is going to give it away. One has to wonder who the minister is really working for. Is he working for American or Canadian producers?

It is one thing to kill the Canadian Wheat Board, but are the Americans going to reduce their subsidies? No, they will not. They never negotiated anything like that. It is a win for the Americans, and that is the problem that we are seeing with the Conservative government.

At the WTO we won the issue with respect to COOL, country of origin labelling. Is the government demanding that the Americans pay compensation to our producers? No. Our industry lost over $5 billion as a result of that illegal, improper action by the United States, and the minister just sits on his hands. It just gives them something else in return. That is the key point in terms of the trade perspective.

Panama is important. Bill C-24 is a reasonably decent bill, but the government has been avoiding the bigger and broader trade issue. At the end of the day, even with a new trade agreement, Canadian exporters and Canadian businesses seem to be consistently losing ground, and they are feeling it in their pocketbooks.

We support Bill C-24, but our focus in terms of trade is on the larger issues and larger trading partners, both existing and potential, that the government is neglecting to the detriment of the Canadian economy and Canadian jobs.

The agreement with Panama is helpful and in the opinion of the Liberal Party the legislation should move to committee for further examination. As I said a moment ago, we do not need to take months to examine it. We should be able to give the bill reasonably quick passage if we examine it critically.

I have a couple of points on Panama. In spite of the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP grew at 10.7% in 2008, one of the highest in the Americas. In 2010, Panama's GDP growth stood at 7.5%. Panama is Canada's largest export market in Central America. The bilateral trading relationship has grown 61% since 2009, reaching $213 million in bilateral trade in 2010.

Primary Canadian merchandise exports to Panama include machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canadian service exports include financial services, engineering, information and communication technology services. Merchandise imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, mainly gold; fruits; nuts; fish; and seafood products.

The existing Panama Canal, vital, as we know, for the international trading system, is being expanded, with completion slated for 2014. The $5.3 billion expansion is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in construction, environmental engineering and consulting services, capital projects and more. That is an opportunity for Canadian companies to work on the ground and to gain economy back home in terms of increasing the size of Panama Canal so it can handle super Panamax vessels.

Elements covered by the FTA include market access for goods, cross-border trade and services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement. Panama maintains an average most-favoured nation, applied tariffs on agriculture products of 13.4%, reaching as high as 260% on some products. The FTA would eliminate these immediately, and that is a good thing, in the case of 90% of the products and gradually on the rest over the next 5 to 15 years. This would likely enhance the competitive position of Canadian agriculture products, such as frozen potato products; pulses; beans and lentils; pork, which was previously taxed at 47%; malt; processed foods; and beef. As I said earlier, several of those products are important to the Atlantic region.

On non-agriculture goods, Panama maintains an average MFN applied tariff of 6.2%, reaching as high as 81% on certain key Canadian exports. The FTA would completely eliminate these tariffs, which could help Canadian exporters of fish and seafood, construction materials and equipment, industrial and electronic machinery, paper products, vehicles and parts. Canada would immediately eliminate over 99% of our tariffs on current imports from Panama.

The free trade agreement also addresses non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods, promoting good regulatory practices, transparency and use of international standards. Ratifying this free trade agreement appears to have little economic risk for Canadian industries. The concerns that have yet to be resolved and relate to the issue of Panama is Panama as a tax haven and the issue of money laundering. I do not want to get into the technicalities in those particular areas. That is an issue that we need to talk about at committee. I asked the parliamentary secretary a question earlier. We see that as an important issue that really does need to be addressed.

The bottom line is that we are supportive of this particular trade agreement but we are critical of the government in terms of its overall trade agenda where it continues to lose out on already established markets as it vies to find new ones.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

March 24th, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

When members are called smug, they all cheer and applaud.

As for the business of the House, I believe the minister responsible for the Status of Women has a motion that she would like to move after I have concluded my response to the Thursday question. Following that, without anticipating the outcome of any vote of the House, there seems to be an appetite to allow members who will not be running in the next election to have two minutes each to make statements. Following these statements, we will continue with day one of the budget debate.

Tomorrow we will consider the last allotted day in this supply period. I do not know why the opposition coalition is talking about ending this very productive Parliament to force an unwanted and unnecessary election. Recent weeks have led me to conclude that this is the most dysfunctional Parliament in Canadian history.

Yesterday our Conservative government achieved royal assent for the following bills: Bill S-6 to eliminate the faint hope clause; Bill C-14 to provide hard-working Canadians some fairness at the gas pumps; Bill C-21 to crack down on white collar crime; Bill C-22 to crack down on those who would exploit our children through the Internet; Bill C-30, R. v. Shoker; Bill C-35 to crack down on crooked immigration consultants; Bill C-42 to provide aviation security; Bill C-48 to eliminate sentencing discounts for multiple murderers; Bill C-59 to get rid of early parole for white collar fraudsters, a bill the Liberal government opposed but the Bloc supported; Bill C-61, the freezing of assets of corrupt regimes; and Bill S-5, safe vehicles from Mexico. What a legacy for the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

The work of this Parliament is not done. There are a number of key and popular government bills that Canadians want. Next week, starting on Monday, we will call: Bill C-8, the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement; Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement; Bill C-51, investigative powers for the 21st century; and Bill C-52, lawful access.

Does the Minister of Justice ever stop fighting crime? He gets more and more done. In many respects, as House leader I am like the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice.

Of course, we need to complete the budget debate to implement the next phase of Canada's economic action plan, a low tax plan for jobs and growth. Therefore, Tuesday we will debate day two of the budget, Wednesday we will debate day three of the budget and on Thursday we will debate day four of the budget. We have lots to do and I suggest to the members across that we turn our attention back to serving the interests of the public.

While I am on my feet, I would like to serve those interests by asking for unanimous consent for the following motion. I move that, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

March 10th, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect to your ruling yesterday, we are working right now as we speak to comply on that issue and we will be responding in short order.

We will continue debate today on the Bloc opposition motion that began this morning.

Tomorrow, we will call for third reading of Bill C-55, the new veterans charter bill. I appreciate that there has been support for the passage of that bill. It is important for Canada's veterans and I am pleased that we have been able to come together on that.

Following Bill C-55, if time permits, we would debate Bill C-54, protecting children from sexual predators; Bill S-7, the justice for victims of terrorism; Bill C-8, the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement; Bill C-12, the democratic representation bill, which is an important bill for my premier in Ontario and particularly for the people in both Alberta and British Columbia; Bill C-46, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement; Bill C-57, improving trade within Canada; Bill C-43, RCMP modernization; Bill C-52, investigating and preventing criminal electronic communications; and Bill C-50, improving access to investigative tools for serious crime.

With respect to the business for next week, I will be, among other places, working hard in my constituency for the people of Ottawa West--Nepean.