Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to a bill concerning a bilateral free trade agreement with Panama, Bill C-46.
I rise today to hopefully take a look at Canada's track record regarding trade and particularly the direction that the government has taken when it comes to trade agreements. When it comes to the Panama free trade agreement, it is actually part of the cookie-cutter approach that the government has of looking at free trade as a one-off kind of thing that can be done with different countries, and by the same token, ignoring where I think we should be spending our time and effort, which is looking at the multilateral forums.
Many who are involved in trade agreements and in diplomacy are very concerned about the fact that we were not able to find success in the Doha Round. The government will say that since Doha has collapsed, the World Trade Organization talks on multilateralism have collapsed, in effect what we should be doing is just having bilateral trade agreements.
That sounds reasonable if we consider that there does not seem to be any initiative that is worthwhile to get multilateral trade agreements going on or the Doha Round going again, except for the fact that when we look at what Canada's role in trade has been historically from the beginning of Confederation, we need to ensure that we do have fair trade opportunities, that we are not going to be susceptible to larger economies taking advantage of our goods and services and resources. By the same token, we have to have access to markets.
Essentially, in a sentence or two, that is what the equation is. It is making sure we have access, while protecting our economy.
When it comes to these bilateral trade agreements, the concern here is that when we compound them and stack them up, we have to really look at what is in the interests of Canada. There have been some interesting suppositions put forward on these small bilateral trade agreements. Let us be honest here: most Canadians do not wake up in the morning and say, “By golly, we need to get access to the market in Lichtenstein, or Jordan, or Panama”.
We do want to make sure that we are not selling off our natural resources without value added, that we are not opening our markets up to the vagaries of what we have seen lately, which is very significant multinational corporations coming in and taking over our companies, dispensing with the parts of the company that they do not find profitable, and making away with the profits. That is the major concern of Canadians, not about free trade with Panama or Lichtenstein or Jordan.
Canadians are very concerned about what happens when these bilateral trade agreements compound and what is the benefit for Canada. In the last couple of weeks, there has been an interesting discussion around potash. Potash has been a real cornerstone for the economy in Saskatchewan. As we know, it was something that was a net benefit for everyone in Saskatchewan because it was a crown corporation.
Sadly, we saw it sold off, and we say this respectfully to the party in Saskatchewan or what used to be the Conservative party that exists no more. They sold it off. We now have Mr. Wall in a position where he is having to sound like a New Democrat, saying that because of the concerns of international investors, he is going to actually stand up for Saskatchewan and not let Potash Corporation be further undermined. We welcome that.
Mr. Wall has now listened to what New Democrats have said: “Do not sell it off. Do not let the Prime Minister have his way.” When we are talking about international trade, we are talking about protecting Canadian industry. I know some of the Conservatives are looking as though they are doing a pretzel dance, but that is kind of how they are dealing with the potash file. I guess they represent exactly what is happening with their position on trade, protecting, on the one hand, Canadian industries, and on the other hand, ensuring that we have markets abroad.
Make no mistake, if Potash Corporation is sold off to another country, which is essentially what is happening, the effects will be not just to Saskatchewan. The ripple effect will be felt throughout Canada. That is what we have to consider when we are looking at trade agreements. How is Canada going to benefit? The provisions in this bill, in this offering from government, are in terms of investment protection and free market access in goods and services, including government procurement, but then we get into what we have seen in previous trade agreements: a labour protection agreement and an agreement on the environment.
Unless absolute clarity on what we are agreeing to in terms of labour standards and environmental standards is embedded in trade agreements, they are not worth the paper they are written on. They can be ignored. If there are labour standards, for instance, such the ones in Panama, which are not as strong as those in Canada, essentially we are putting our workers in unfair competition with workers from Panama. Not only that, but in talking to people from Panama, as our party has, their concern is that it is in fact putting a rubber stamp on labour practices in Panama and saying that all is well and good.
I have heard the government say, time and time again, this will lift all boats up and by us signing a free trade agreement with Panama, all of a sudden it is going to have fair labour standards and fair environmental standards. We know we do not even have the capacity to have oversight on the potash deal in this country. Are we really going to have enough people to have oversight on the environmental and labour standards in Panama? I doubt it. In fact, the agreement does not have it embedded. It is a side agreement and it is a sideshow at the end of the day.
When we look at the totality of this bilateral trade agreement, it is like what we have seen in the past. There is no guarantee that we are going to have equity in terms of access to markets and protecting labour and environmental standards for those we trade with. We do not know and have actual numbers to convince any of us that this will be a benefit to Canadians, be it workers or investors. We do not know what the follow-up will be, because when we are talking about trade agreements, each of these agreements needs to be monitored. Once we sign off and say, “Here is access to our markets”, some people will take advantage of that and will have access to cheaper labour, perhaps, and able to have environmental standards that are not as strong as Canada's, but we will have to make sure that there are benefits to Canada. Who is going to monitor that?
Right now, as I said before in terms of looking at the potential sale of PotashCorp, we do not even have enough people monitoring that. For each of these bilateral agreements, we are going to need people to monitor these trade agreements. That is why it is so important to focus on the multilateral approach.
With a multilateral trade system, which used to be the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, we would have discussions and debates in Brussels and we would have some of our bureaucrats in Brussels on a regular basis ensuring that the GATT rules were being followed. We will need the same kind of thing for each of these bilateral agreements.
We should be entering into multilateral agreements. It makes sense and it is fairer. This is not the way to go. Clearly this is going to be another example of the government ignoring multilateral, going into bilateral, and at the end of the day, Canadians will not be better off.