Madam Speaker, we need to ensure that they are of benefit to Canadian citizens.
A member across is asking when is the last time a New Democrat agreed to a trade agreement. We have not because we do not see a benefit to Canadians. Often we are accused of just opposing things. We have actually had some proposals about what trade agreements should look like. New Democrats talk about fair trade, not free trade. I want to talk about a couple of those elements, because they are absent from this agreement.
New Democrats believe that a trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade. Equitable trade is an important aspect of any agreement.
We also believe there are a number of overall strategies that should be in place when we are looking at trade agreements. These include a comprehensive, common-sense impact assessment on all international agreements which demonstrates that trade deals that Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industries. The government should not sign any trade agreement that would lead to a net job loss. I referenced the softwood lumber agreement earlier and the impact that has had on jobs in our communities from coast to coast to coast.
Trade agreements that Canada negotiates should 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. Of course with these trade agreements and what is happening with foreign takeovers of our industries, that kind of impact assessment simply is not happening, especially around the issue of sovereignty.
A fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote is the protection of 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.
Another fundamental principle is that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.
There are other elements that we propose are important to any fair trade agreement. We simply find that the agreements that come before the House do not include those elements.
This Panama bilateral free trade agreement has four components: free market access in goods and services, investment protection, labour protection and an agreement on the environment. The labour protection agreement and the agreement on the environment are side agreements. They are not even incorporated into the trade agreement.
I want to touch on three aspects of this because I only have a brief period of time.
Regarding labour co-operation, we have seen this in other agreements. Under the Colombia free trade agreement, we saw what was being characterized as pay a fine, kill a trade unionist. In Colombia, we have certainly seen continuing violence against trade union members.
When we look at the Panama free trade agreement, we see that it is going to make it easier for Canadian and foreign corporations to flout Canadian labour laws, to pay their workers in Panama an average wage of about $2 an hour, and not have to pay for pension or sick leave benefits.
In Canada, we have laws that protect workers. We have some minimum standards. I think many of us are concerned about the erosion of some of those standards. We only need to look at what is happening with private sector pensions in Canada, but workers in Panama simply do not have access to the same level of benefits as in Canada, nor is there anything in this agreement that would ensure that workers in Panama would not be subjected to conditions that we would simply find intolerable here.
The labour co-operation agreement within the Panama free trade agreement does not have any vigorous enforcement mechanisms. As I mentioned, this is a very similar template to what was used in the Colombia free trade agreement. Because there are not these kinds of protections, that should be of concern to this House. In the Colombia free trade agreement, there had been a recommendation made for a full study on any kind of human rights violations before we proceeded with that agreement, and that did not happen.
It is the same thing with the side agreement on the environment. It has no effective mechanism to force Canada or Panama to respect environmental rights. The agreement commits both countries to pursue environmental co-operation and to work to improve their environmental laws and policies, but it can only ask both parties to enforce their domestic laws, and if they do so, there are very few remedies if they violate their own laws.
I would argue that what we have here is an agreement which, if Canadians truly understood both the labour and the environmental aspects of it, they would be saying not to sign onto it.
A number of other members have touched on the issue of tax havens. I am going to raise that issue as well because the government says it is going to crack down on tax havens and yet we are signing onto a free trade agreement with a country that has a notorious reputation for being a tax haven. I want to touch on a couple of aspects around tax havens and the investor portion of it.
The trade deal does not provide investors or labour with a level playing field. While under chapter 11 investors have the right to seek binding arbitration, they can pursue independently a trade union in Panama that does not get to pursue a case to arbitration. They can file a complaint that would lead to an investigation report, but it is up to the government to seek remedies and damages. I mention that because chapter 11 has been a serious problem for us and we feel that this is another way of simply brushing some of the issues under the carpet.
Other members have talked about the opposition in the United States to this free trade agreement. When members of the U.S. Congress speak out quite vocally, it is important for us to pay attention.
In a letter signed by two members of Congress in April 2009, they indicated that Panama's industrial policy is premised on obtaining a comparative advantage by banning taxation of foreign corporations, hiding tax liabilities and transactions behind banking secrecy rules and the ease with which U.S. and other firms can create unregulated subsidiaries.
According to the state department, Panama has over 350,000 foreign registered companies. We can almost guarantee that those are shells that allow the flow-through of money to avoid taxation in the countries where those companies actually operate. The member for Elmwood—Transcona mentioned that AIG is very keen on these tax havens in Panama, and we heard about the court cases and whatnot that are unfolding.
An article on the Dow Jones Newswires says that tax haven questions could trip up the Panama trade pact. It says that the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, listed Panama as one of the 30 tax haven jurisdictions that have committed to international standards on bank secrecy but have not yet substantially implemented those standards. The member for Elmwood—Transcona mentioned that there are eight countries that now have agreements with Panama. But, as usual, the devil is in the details.
With its track record, its history of secrecy, its unwillingness to supply information, one would wonder why at this point we would be willing to sign an agreement without some of those guarantees, some of that transparency and accountability that the Conservative government always references being in place to protect Canadians and Canadian companies.
New Democrats will be opposing Bill C-46, and I think with very good reason. We encourage other members in the House to take a close look at some of the flaws in this agreement.