Mr. Speaker, New Democrats believe that Canadians recognize the importance of trade to our economy and want an effective, strategic trade policy that expands trade opportunities and supports Canadian exporters.
We believe that Canadians want a trade policy that produces good jobs in our communities and encourages the development of value-added production to our many resources here in Canada.
We believe that Canadians want a trade policy that strengthens our economic relationships with growing significant economics that add strategic value to the Canadian economy.
We believe that Canadians want trade agreements that preserve our ability to legislate in the public interest, protect our social programs, and promote local economic development.
We believe that Canadians want their government to pursue a balanced trade policy that builds trade and at the same time fosters positive democratic development, human rights, and environmental standards, both in Canada and in the nations with whom we trade.
New Democrats also know that Canadians care about the process by which we implement trade policy. Canadians want an open, transparent, and accountable process in all aspects of the development of trade policy and agreements.
Canadians want and deserve to be consulted about their priorities and kept advised about the progress of trade negotiations. After all, they know that trade agreements are not negotiated on behalf of political parties or special interests but are negotiated on behalf of all Canadians and all sectors of our economy. This is particularly the case as trade agreements have become more comprehensive and increasingly deal with areas of policy that have historically been considered to be of purely domestic concern.
Since the Conservatives took office in 2006, by all objective measurements Canada's trade performance has been deplorable.
In 2006, the Conservatives inherited a current account surplus of some $18 billion. Today, after eight years in power, Canada has a current account deficit of $62 billion. That is a negative swing of some $80 billion, an average decline of $10 billion for every year the Conservatives have been in power.
Over the last two years, even as we have pulled slowly out of the global recession, Canada has experienced 23 consecutive months of merchandise trade deficits.
We have also seen an alarming shift in the quality of our exports. Under the Conservatives, there has been an increase in the percentage of our exports that are raw or barely processed, reversing a decades-long trend toward an increase in our value-added products. Nor can this poor performance be explained away by the recession that Canada experienced between 2008 and 2011.
A comparison by the Library of Parliament of Canada's trade performance to 17 other countries around the world between 2006 and 2012, countries that experienced the exact same global recession, collapse in commodity prices, and currency fluctuations, found that Canada came dead last in current account performance.
This poor trade record is consistent with the Conservatives’ poor performance economically, across the board. A look at major economic metrics provides comprehensive evidence of the government's economic failure since it took office in 2006.
I hear laughing on that side, but we will see if those members still laugh after hearing these statistics.
The national unemployment rate in 2006 was 6.6%; today it is 7.2%. The youth unemployment rate in 2006 was 12.2%; today it is 14%. Among the 34 OECD nations in employment creation since 2006, Canada ranks 20th. The number of governments since 1935, in the last 80 years, that presided over a slower rate of real economic growth per capita is zero. The per cent of our federal debt accumulated since 2006 is one fifth. The percentage increase in our real average manufacturing wage from 2006 to now is zero. The percentage drop in productivity since the Conservatives came to power is a negative 1.9%.
The conclusion is obvious. The Conservatives have had eight years to implement their trade and economic policies, and the unacceptable results are there for all to see.
The Bank of Canada has explicitly stated that a major contributing factor to Canada's stalled economic performance is due to our under-performance on the trade file.
Canada is a trading nation. Our economy is historically, and continues to be, substantially dependent on our export sector and increasingly, with global supply chains and integrated production, on our import experience as well.
It is therefore vital that Canada implement a smart, effective trade policy and pursue well-negotiated beneficial trade agreements with strategically important growing and significant economies that will help Canadian businesses and create good jobs for Canadians.
That brings us to the matter before the House: Bill C-20.
With all the issues and deeply entrenched problems facing Canada's trade sector, what do the Conservatives bring to this Parliament today? They bring Canadians a free trade agreement with Honduras. Now, this is not surprising. Although the Conservatives like to brag about the trade agreements they have concluded in the last eight years, the facts, again, tell a different story. In truth, they have concluded a total of six trade agreements with the following countries: Jordan; Panama; Peru; Colombia; a goods-only agreement with four small European countries including Liechtenstein and Iceland; and now Honduras.
As is obvious, these are agreements with small economies of limited strategic interest to Canada. Trade agreements with major developed and developing economies like Japan, India, South Korea, Brazil, China, and South Africa—agreements that would have a material and positive benefit for the Canadian economy, if negotiated well—the Conservatives have been unable to conclude.
New Democrats believe that we should apply three important criteria to assess trade agreements.
First, is the proposed partner a democracy that respects human rights, adheres to acceptable environmental standards and Canadian values, and if there are challenges regarding these, can it fairly be said that they are on a positive trajectory toward these goals?
Second, is the proposed partner's economy of significant and strategic value to Canada?
Third, are the terms of the proposed agreement acceptable?
The proposed free trade agreement with Honduras fails this test. Again, let us look at the facts, and take a closer look at the country to which the current Conservative government wants Canadians to extend preferential trade benefits and closer economic relations.
Honduras is a country with a seriously flawed human rights record; weak institutions; corrupt police and army; and a history, both entrenched and recent, of repressive, undemocratic politics. The last democratically elected government, that of President Manuel Zelaya, was toppled by a military coup in June 2009. This coup was staged by the Honduran army under the pretext of a constitutional crisis that had developed between the supreme court and the president. Following the coup, the government suspended key civil liberties, including freedom of the press and assembly. In the ensuing days, security forces responded to peaceful demonstrations with excessive force and shut down opposition media outlets, causing deaths, scores of injuries, and thousands of arbitrary detentions. The coup was widely condemned around the world, including by all Latin American nations, the European Union, the United States, and the UN General Assembly.
In January 2010, Porfirio Lobo Sosa assumed the presidency through what has overwhelmingly been deemed undemocratic and illegitimate means. Of course, holding an election mere months after the violent military overthrow of the elected administration is hardly an acceptable context for a free and fair election. Indeed, most foreign governments and election-monitoring agencies refused even to send observers, and many countries rejected the results of the election. The recent election held in November 2013 has similarly been condemned by independent observers.
Since 2009, NGOs of all types have documented serious human rights abuses. Extra-judicial killings; kidnappings of political figures; intimidation of citizens; severe restrictions on public demonstrations, protest, and freedom of expression; and interference in the independence of the judiciary are well established in Honduras.
Here are some basic facts from independent sources about the situation in Honduras.
Honduras ranks 85th out of 167 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2012 democracy index. That is a slide from being 74th; in other words, it is getting worse.
Honduras is now classified as a “hybrid regime”, rather than its previous designation as a “flawed democracy”.
Transparency International ranks Honduras as the “most corrupt country in Central America”, which is no small feat. It is a major drug-smuggling centre, and it has the worst income equality in the region. The U.S. state department estimates that 79% of all cocaine shipments originating in South America land in Honduras. Drugs move from South America through countries like Honduras and other Central American states into Mexico and the United States and Canada.
Independent observers have noted the increasing levels of violence, as well as organized criminal and gang activity associated with the trade in illegal narcotics. According to The Economist, “the countries in 'the northern triangle' of the Central American isthmus”—and that includes Honduras—“form what is now the most violent region on earth”.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that in 2011 there were 92 murders per 100,000 people per year in Honduras, making it the most violent country in Latin America. In 2012, Honduras became the murder capital of the world, reaching a record high of 7,172 homicides in 2012, or 81 per 100,000 people.
In 2013, on average there have been 10 massacres per month, according to the investigative website InSight Crime, which defines “massacre” as an instance where three or more people are murdered at one time. In the previous four years, fewer than 20% of homicide cases have been investigated, let alone prosecuted.
As pointed out by the Americas Policy Group, this high level of impunity serves to mask political violence.
Since 2010, there have been more than 200 politically motivated killings and Honduras is now regarded as the world's most dangerous place for journalists. According to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report, Honduras has the region's highest rate of journalists killed per capita, with some 23 having been assassinated in the last three years alone. According to the Honduran national human rights commission, 36 journalists were killed between 2003 and mid-2013, and 29 have been killed since President Lobo took office.
Today, journalists in Honduras continue to suffer threats, attacks and killings, and authorities consistently fail to investigate these crimes effectively. Peasant activists and LGBT individuals are particularly vulnerable to attacks, yet the government routinely fails to prosecute those responsible.
In June 2013, 24 U.S. senators signed a letter expressing concern about the human rights situation in Honduras. Ninety-four members of Congress have called on the U.S. State Department to halt all military aid to Honduras in light of its violent repression of political activity.
At least 16 activists and candidates from the main opposition party, LIBRE, were assassinated since June of 2012, and 15 more have been attacked. On August 25, 2013, just months ago, three leaders of the indigenous Tolupan were shot and killed. There are extensively documented cases of police corruption, with 149 extrajudicial killings by police recorded between January 2011 and November 2012 alone.
In January 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers called the dismissal of four Supreme Court justices by the Honduran government a violation of international norms and a grave threat to democracy.
This is what Mr. Neil Reeder, the director general of the Latin America and Caribbean bureau in DFAIT testified before committee:
...institutions...are...weak. Impunity is pervasive and corruption is a challenge.
Corruption within the Honduran police force is a particular problem, which the Government of Honduras...recognizes. Largely because Central America is situated between the drug-producing countries of South America and the drug-consuming countries to the north, Honduras...[has] been particularly affected by the growth of transnational drug trafficking, human trafficking, and the impact of organized crime.
Another element of the violence affecting Honduras is the presence of street gangs, known as maras, which rely on extortion and other forms of crime as...income. Honduras has more of these gangs than all other Central American countries combined, and their activities contribute to crime and insecurity in the country. Honduras now has...the highest homicide rates in the world, at 81 per 100,000, as compared with 1.8 per 100,000 in Canada.
This is the profile of the country that the Conservative government wants Canada to extend preferential trade access and closer economic relations to.
In terms of significance to the Canadian economy, the facts reveal the following.
Honduras ranks 120th out of 186 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. The World Bank categorizes Honduras as a lower-middle income country, and Honduras suffers from extremely unequal income distribution, extreme social inequality, high unemployment, poor health and education. This is the country that the government wants Canadian businesses to compete with.
Honduras is currently Canada's 104th export market in terms of export value. In 2012 merchandise exports totalled a meagre $38 million and imports $218 million, marking a significant trade deficit. Internal DFAIT analyses confirm that only marginal benefits for the Canadian economy are expected from this deal.
Although Canada's extractive sector has interests in Honduras, Canadian mining companies have been ensnared in controversial local struggles with citizens and indigenous groups and face allegations of environmental contamination.
In terms of the process used by the Conservatives to arrive at this deal, there has been a complete lack of transparency in the negotiation process of this trade agreement. Despite repeated demands by civil society in Canada, the Government of Canada failed to make public the text of the agreement during the negotiation process, and further, the government's token environmental impact assessment of the free trade agreement, released in October, omitted any assessment of the impact of Canadian investments in Honduras because these figures are considered “confidential”.
Also, as is usually the case with the Conservatives, they have allowed no opportunity for either this Parliament or Canadians themselves to comment upon or influence the agreement before it is signed. We are left with a choice of only voting yes or no. The labour and environmental side agreements are inadequate, given that they are not accompanied by any real enforcement mechanism to ensure they are adhered to. Through the investment chapter of the Canada-Honduras trade agreement, corporations can sue the Canadian government in international tribunals, hindering Canada's ability to make decisions aimed at protecting the public good.
Considering that Honduras is an undemocratic country with weak institutions and low standards, and is of insignificant strategic interest and has a record of serious human rights abuses, New Democrats believe that the majority of Canadians would not agree that preferential trade terms be accorded such a nation.
What the New Democrat opposition wants is a strategic trade policy where we restart multinational negotiations, where we sign trade deals with developed countries that have high standards and developing countries that are on positive trajectories. These are countries like Japan, India, Brazil and South Africa. These are the countries we should be signing trade agreements with, not undemocratic countries like Honduras that are drug trafficking centres, human rights violators and have low standards that will hurt Canadian business.
I could do no better than to adopt the words spoken by two Canadians, Mr. Garry Neil and Ms. Stacey Gomez, who said:
...we really do not believe that it is good public policy for the government to be pursuing trade and investment agreements that are economically basically meaningless with volatile and undemocratic nations like Honduras....
We have long maintained that under the right conditions, trade can generate growth and support the realization of human rights. These conditions simply do not exist in Honduras. Canada should refrain from signing the FTA with Honduras until there is a verifiable improvement in the country’s democratic governance and human rights situation. Until these things are achieved, the Canada-Honduras FTA will do more harm than good.
I believe these are wise words. New Democrats will vote against the agreement accordingly, and I urge all members who want trade to be a positive force in the world economically, politically, socially and environmentally to join us in doing so as well.