Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the NDP motion. I will read it again so that our audience will have a proper understanding of what is going on. It reads as follows:
That this House calls upon the government to respect the spirit of the evidence given by the Minister of International Trade before the Foreign Affairs Committee, who stated “I can assure you that we are not seeking an investor-state provision in the WTO or anywhere else”, by refusing to sign any trade agreement, such as the FTAA or the GATS, that includes a NAFTA Chapter 11-style investor-state clause.
In other words, what it says is that there is a problem in the government's present position in wanting to negotiate a free trade agreement with all of the Americas. We hope there will be a free trade agreement with all of the Americas, and that it will be an agreement with a human face.
The attitude we are seeing at the moment on the part of the government could lead, in a pinch, to a situation in which the people would have to speak out against the free trade agreement if things that are unacceptable, such as chapter 11 of NAFTA, persist. Chapter 11 leaves room for things that are unacceptable and strangely reminiscent of the multilateral agreement on investment.
So the people watching may understand, chapter 11 concerns the whole issue of dispute settlement. When there is a problem between a business and the interpretation of NAFTA, by which governments may intervene, the agreement sets out the mechanisms so we know how it is to work.
Among other problems, there is the fact that precedents are not taken into account. There is a lack of transparency as to whether the decisions that will be taken will be appropriate. The governments themselves have realized that there was a major problem with the application of these articles. It could be seen in a matter involving Mexico, and we can see it in matters involving Canada.
This article also defines just what constitutes an investment. It moves from the closed concept of an investment to a concept open to interpretations that give short shrift to the rights of governments over the rights of businesses. It is a repeat of the debate involving the multilateral agreement on investment.
The agreement also deals with national treatment, providing that a foreign business should be entitled to the same benefits as a business from the country in which the economic activity is taking place. This would eliminate many of the possibilities of support for local and Quebec businesses. These are things we should look at closely before signing such an agreement for all the Americas, in addition to the whole issue of expropriation.
Where things get even worse is when one realizes what is actually going on. This is probably what prompted a reaction from the minister earlier. When we are forced to eat our words, it is not easy. A few months ago, the minister said that he would not sign a free trade agreement of the Americas containing a clause similar to the one in NAFTA. For him, this was unjustifiable and unacceptable.
Now he tells us that maybe chapter 11 is fine after all. On the one hand, there is what he said on December 13, 2000, when he maintained that he would not sign an agreement with anything resembling chapter 11. On the other, there is his statement on April 24 that the government believed strongly that chapter 11 was working reasonably well. Something happened between these two statements. Someone, somewhere, changed the minister's mind.
It is the same with respect to his comments earlier on the issue of his having apparently obtained agreement in Buenos Aires for the texts to be made public.
It must be remembered that these texts were made public once the business council told the heads of state “If we want there to be less pressure so that we can get through the summit, it would perhaps be best to agree to publish the texts because, if we do not, we are going to meet with even more resistance. So, let us agree to make them public, which we will do later on, after the summit.”
Now that things have quieted down and the summit is over, they are taking their time to have them translated. In this marvellous federal Parliament, where translation in both official languages should be a source of pride, we have not found a way to make these documents public because we had a problem.
This is what brings us back to reality. I think today's motion is interesting and acceptable and that we should support it. If we were to sign a free trade agreement with the Americas only to suddenly find out, the day after its implementation, that it contains something similar to chapter 11 and that corporations can tell national governments what to do, I think many of us will not have much to be proud of and will have to answer to their constituents.
Also, we made the commitment to implement the FTAA in 2005. For this to happen, debates need to be held. And there could be a federal election riding on this issue.
We will have to be able to tell our fellow citizens that, yes, the agreement is acceptable to the people of Quebec and Canada, yes, such an agreement is beneficial to us and, yes, we will create wealth and distribute it fairly. But we must ensure that we do not engage in something that we will not be able to get out of and that we do not have to spend public funds to defend ourselves against businesses that want to do unacceptable things.
The free trade agreement must not become some kind of operating code that would put states at the mercy of businesses. It is very important to avoid this type of situation.
That is why today's motion requires the attention as well as the support of the House. I intend to support it.
We are not saying that the agreement should not contain any definition regarding the treatment of investment. That is not what we are saying. But we want to be sure to draw from past experience, from the situations we faced with NAFTA and are still facing now, so that the agreement takes it into account. We want the texts to be amended accordingly to give enough power to the states so that businesses cannot impose their will upon them.
Let us not forget that the great challenge of the free trade area of the Americas is to ensure that the agreement does not only create wealth but also allows for the fair distribution of such wealth, so that it enables the government to continue to represent the people.
Democracy was the key issue at the summit of the Americas. If democracy is to be more than a policy statement, if it is to eventually translate into concrete action, the chapter on investments in the agreement on the free trade area of the Americas will have to include an assurance, a guarantee.
Clear and specific answers are required on the whole issue of the dispute settlement mechanism, and the definition of investments, national treatment and expropriation, to ensure that control over development remains with the members states and has not been completely handed over to businesses, multinationals and people whose objectives are very specific, but do not necessarily take into account the well-being of the public.
This is why I will support that motion and urge all members of this House, particularly the government majority, to also support it. Surely, there must be some Liberals who were opposed to free trade. We all remember that the Liberal Party was completely opposed to free trade a few years ago. Today, there must still be some watchdogs in that party to stress that, in the end, we must have an agreement that is acceptable.
I will end on that note. This agreement will not be in place for two or three years. This matter, including the whole issue of investments, will have an impact on the lives of our children and grandchildren. I saw it in Quebec City. I saw young people who were very aware of why they were going there, and this was the main reason why they were opposed to the free trade agreement of the Americas.
They probably had an even keener and deeper vision than ours, because they had already anticipated the possibility of a flip-flop by the Minister for International Trade like the one we have witnessed today.