Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois supported this bill at second reading. I refer to the Canada-Costa Rica free trade implementation act.
The member for Joliette, who is responsible for this matter, moved some amendments in committee. However, even though at second reading we supported the principle of the bill, we said we had serious misgivings. None of these serious misgivings were settled during committee deliberations so today we will vote against this bill at third reading.
It is not that we do not support free trade, because I think everyone knows we do. However we support it on the condition that free trade does not lead to the stronger dominating the weaker. Free trade must improve the economies and the rights of all countries.
We had and continue to have three major complaints. The first is a matter of principle. Since the Bloc arrived in the House, it has protested as each new international treaty, trade agreement or convention comes to the attention of the House after the government had already reached its decision. We find this a rather backward way for parliament to operate.
The government cannot point to the British parliament in defence of this approach, which is neither transparent or consultative, either civil society or parliament, since, surprise, surprise, Great Britain has itself changed its approach and consults its parliament.
We find ourselves in a situation where our debates on the content take place after the treaty is signed. This is the case with the implementation bill before us. In the course of the debate in principl, the government side says “But you have the implementation act. You can vote on an implementation act”. Yes, but the problem is that although we can vote on it and against it we can do nothing to change it.
What is the point of a parliament that can only express views and not change anything? That is the situation in which the Parliament of Canada finds itself and this must change.
My former colleague, the member for Beauharnois--Salaberry, presented a private member's bill that was not selected for debate in the House. I presented the same bill. I hope that this time it will be deemed votable and a majority of members will have changed their minds so that this parliament can modernize the way it proceeds and can take into account, in its extremely important international dealings that affect the lives of Canadians and Quebecers, the notion of respect for consultation.
In addition to providing no opportunity for input, there are two other elements that we find completely unacceptable about this approach. The first is an obvious lack of transparency. The government is always saying that it is the best in the world when it comes to transparency, but when it talks about transparency it refers people to an Internet site. This is not what democracies consider transparency. Throughout Quebec and Canada many people are suffering because of this situation. There is a lack of transparency.
There is also the issue of disregard for provincial jurisdiction. When Canada signs these trade agreements or international conventions, not only is it acting within its own jurisdiction but it is also acting within that of the provinces. We cannot gloss over this.
However, this is not the reason we will be voting against the bill at third reading. We agree on the content of this implementation act, and we could vote in support of it after having the chance to speak eloquently to the issue. However, there are two other serious problems with this trade agreement and its content, and, consequently, the implementation act.
This free trade agreement with Costa Rica was signed on April 21, 2001, after negotiations conducted while preparing for the summit of the Americas that was held in Quebec City on the free trade area of the Americas, an issue that is still of interest to Quebecers and Canadians. Here again, if that free trade agreement is signed, it will have an impact on our lives.
During the preparations for the Quebec summit, the government stressed through, among others the Minister for International Trade, that it agreed with numerous observers that the way NAFTA, the free trade agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico, deals with issues relating to foreign investments is not the appropriate way. The Minister for International Trade said, and I quote “Canada is not advocating the replication of NAFTA investor state rules in the FTAA.”
The minister added “--and has not supported the proposals made so far by other FTAA countries to include such a type of dispute settlement mechanism”.
I can give the address of the Internet site where this quote from the minister is to be found.
At the same time that the minister was making that statement, he was negotiating to renew the free trade agreement with Costa Rica that had first been signed in 1998. He was very proud when he showed up with this renewed free trade agreement with Costa Rica. We noticed that the rules in the agreement between Canada and Costa Rica to settle disputes between investors and states are exactly the same as those found in NAFTA.
In committee, I pointed this out to the minister. He turned to his negotiator, who said “No, the member is mistaken. That is not the case. What we have renewed is a foreign investment protection agreement”.
Oddly enough, this foreign investment protection agreement, or FIPA as it is called, contains the very same provisions as chapter 11 of NAFTA, which many people with an active interest in free trade agreements oppose.
How can this be explained? Not too easily, and it is a big concern. It is why my colleague, the young and brilliant member for Joliette, brought forward an amendment on this issue in committee. He suggested that the bill be amended by replacing the wording in the agreement signed by the government with the following “dispute settlement, by providing for the repeal of article 12 of the agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of Costa Rica concerning the encouragement and protection of investments”.
In fact, the important thing to understand, even if it seems complicated, is that, until 1993, all agreements signed by Canada with other countries were based on the principle that, when there was a dispute over foreign investment--if there was nationalization, a government policy, rules which seemed to prevent a company from setting up business, or a dispute of any sort--the rule was that the two states discussed the problem and, if no agreement was reached, they could take their case to a tribunal. That was for two states.
When NAFTA was signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States, this approach, which had been recommended by the OECD, by the way, was replaced by the principle whereby an investor who has cause to complain may bypass its state of origin and take its case directly to a tribunal.
This possibility, this capacity awarded to investors, has had disastrous effects on the role played by states.
With NAFTA we are beginning to see that the settlements coming out of these tribunals, which operated in a totally secret and discreet way until this summer's agreement and which does not change their intrinsic nature, make it possible for an investor to take the state in which he has invested before a tribunal which is all powerful. This is so much the case that private tribunals have in secret, without a third party being allowed to attend to listen in on the proceedings or make representations, made decisions that equated a governmental decision, to protect the environment for example, with a measure that would reduce profits.
This was very far removed from the principle of nationalization for which compensation was required. Loss of profit was considered as something for which the state should compensate. I believe everyone agrees on the effect of this. It is that businesses in countries needing investment, and some here in Canada as well, will launch huge suits, because they are allowed to do so, in order to get government policies withdrawn.
In Quebec, the public might perhaps tell the government “Paying for that makes no sense at all. Quebec is entitled to decide on its own policies, environmental or otherwise”. The situation remains, however, that the fear of having to pay is going to be very great, and will run counter to the democratic power of a country. This will in my opinion be even more the case with the poorer countries, which are in greater need of foreign investment.
As for the famous NAFTA chapter 11, which sets out the principle of the investor's right to challenge a state directly, this principle must absolutely not be part of the free trade agreement of the Americas. If Canada is to act consistently with the statements of the Minister for International Trade when it renews agreements, often with developing countries, it must do away with this principle, which is tantamount to investor domination over states desperately in need of investments and often vulnerable.
Despite our speeches and our references to the Minister for International Trade, after debate on whether or not it was admissible, this amendment was rejected in the end.
There is also a third and different problem, to which our colleague from the Canadian Alliance referred, and that is sugar. This agreement opens the market to sugar from Costa Rica. This provision, if it were limited as we recommended, would not have provoked our opposition in and of itself, since the sugar that Costa Rica could export to Canada would not threaten the current situation in the sugar industry despite the fact that the industry has some concerns.
In Quebec, Lantic Sugar is located in Montreal. This is a world class refinery that employs 345 employees and has just invested $100 million to modernize its Montreal refinery.
Workers came to my office to share their fears with me with respect to the talks that are currently underway with four other sugar producing countries in South America, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.
Guatemala's exports of refined sugar alone represent 75% of the Canadian market. This gives us an idea of the size of Guatemala's sugar exports. We cannot blame this country for wanting to export its sugar, to the contrary. However, in Canada this refinery and the industry are telling us that they themselves are in a situation where they are prevented from selling products that contain a single grain of sugar in their exports to the United States. Even cookies have to be made with sugar substitutes rather than sugar. This shows how major the barrier is that they are facing.
What we and the member for Joliette proposed in committee were basically two things. We proposed an amendment that read as follows:
It is understood that the agreement must not serve as a model for future bilateral free trade agreements, and that all future negotiations on sugar must take place in a multilateral context and within the framework of the future Free Trade Area of the Americas.
I think that this amendment is easily understood. The Bloc Quebecois and industry are not against continuing negotiations, but they must take place within a multilateral framework. The idea is not to open up markets to Quebec and Canada alone, but to have other markets open up at the same time. This amendment was ruled out of order.
Being very much pro-free trade, we are in favour of bilateral agreements with countries in the southern hemisphere. We therefore find ourselves in a situation where we would have liked to vote in favour of this bill. Given the fact that this agreement essentially reproduces the contents of chapter XI and given the government's refusal to provide assurances that this agreement will not be used as a basis for other bilateral negotiations before an attempt is made to sort out sugar exports within a multilateral framework, we are voting against the act to implement the free trade agreement at third reading to show that our concerns are serious.
In conclusion, I wish to say that the issue of opening up markets to southern hemisphere countries is fundamental. It is not a question of being opposed. It is also obvious that opening up markets in this way will not in itself improve the situation of southern hemisphere countries. The effects on the labour force will have to be considered.
It is incompatible with treaties that are negotiated in secret without consulting the public and without even making provisions, as was done after 1988 and during the 1988 discussions, for dealing with any negative impact, given that the expected benefits are so much greater.
We cannot ignore the real and serious concerns of industry workers. If we want to further develop this type of agreement, and we do, we must do it in an open fashion, through open consultation with the provinces, the workers and the public.
People in northern countries must realize that it is urgent for them to have access, through southern countries and, I should say, through oriental countries to the markets of the richest countries. In order to do so, the preparation work must be based on consultation and on results, so that we can indeed open up and allow for a better sharing of wealth.
Oddly enough, it cannot be said that opening up markets, even though everyone right now thinks it is the be all and end all, is the only factor that will ensure a better sharing of wealth. If, in those countries where wealth is growing there is no sharing of it, whether here, in southern countries or in the orient, there are people who will get richer. However, the gaps between societies will not be bridged.
One way that the European Union, among others, has found to help southern or eastern countries in its bilateral relations is to open up its market and buy the production but also provide real assistance by injecting money to promote diversification. We cannot complain about or regret the fact that some countries rely on a monoculture, that they sell only coffee or peanuts, and ignore history.
If today these countries only sell coffee or peanuts, it is because of what happened during the 19th century with colonial empires, where industries did what they wanted and countries that had a diversified production were transformed into countries relying on a monoculture.
It is absolutely necessary to recognize that southern hemisphere and Asian countries should diversify. Some are doing so rapidly and are becoming developed countries. However, those experiencing the most difficulty should be helped.
I would have liked to be able to say that at last parliament was consulted before the signing of a treaty. Perhaps some provisions would have been included in the agreement to reassure our workers and to inform the public about the needs of southern countries. Unfortunately, because this was done behind closed doors, without consultation, without transparency, we find ourselves in a situation where we can only say after the fact that we deeply regret the way things went, and this is what I am doing.