Mr. Speaker, I am here to participate in the debate on Bill C-8, which is about the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Mr. Speaker, you have given many warnings today. This morning, you often reminded us to stick to the text and the free trade agreement between Canada and Jordan. I will try my best. However, Canada has negotiated or is currently negotiating no fewer than 29 bilateral agreements on which the members of the House do not necessarily agree. The agreement with Colombia is one of those bilateral agreements that has led to much discussion.
The Bloc Québécois will support the agreement between Canada and Jordan because it believes that Quebec has something to gain from it.
Jordan is a small country, but it has had significant economic growth for more than 10 years. It is now one of the most open and competitive markets in the Middle East. It does not have many natural resources, but its population is both very young and very educated. International trade is a major component of its development plan. As well, it is one of the Arab countries that has signed the most free trade agreements.
Jordan's two most important sectors are the pharmaceutical industry and the production of agricultural fertilizers, thanks to its large reserves of potash and phosphate.
Jordan is different because it has created special economic zones that attract a lot of foreign investment. These zones create a favourable environment for export. The very well-known Aqaba zone has a fixed 5% tax on most economic activities. That is a relatively attractive rate. There are no tariffs on imported goods, and companies pay no property taxes. Jordan has taken these measures to improve things for itself.
Even though Jordan's unemployment rate is relatively high, companies that set up in the zone can hire up to 70% of their workers from foreign countries. As such, foreign companies that set up in the zone can bring in workers from their own countries. Also, foreign companies can take 100% of their profits back to their home countries.
The major challenges facing Jordan's economy are its lack of water reserves and dependence on the foreign market for energy and fuel.
That shortage of water resources is very important to Quebec because it has vast water resources. The Bloc Québécois will ensure that Quebec's tremendous water resources are excluded from the agreement so that Quebeckers remain in control of this resource.
Earlier, I mentioned that the primary purpose of this agreement was the export of Canadian agricultural products to Jordan. I also spoke about the shortage of water resources. Now, I will talk about Jordan's arid climate, which is not conducive to agriculture. Their agricultural sector has therefore been on the decline for a number of years, and represents only a very small part of their gross domestic product, around 2.4%.
For Canada, Jordan is just a small market, but we must realize that Quebec plays an important role in the total volume of Canadian exports to Jordan. Yes, I said that Quebec plays an important role in the total volume of Canadian exports. According to the Institut de la statistique du Québec, in 2008, 44.8% of all Canadian exports to Jordan originated in Quebec. This was an increase, since in 2007, that figure was 33.8%.
The volume of this trade is minimal, considering the total value of Quebec exports to Jordan was only $35 million. Quebec exports primarily copper products, followed very closely by pulp and paper. These two sectors represent $25 million of the $35 million of total Quebec exports to Jordan. We already have an open door when it comes to pulp and paper exports. We could perhaps move forward and continue to open up the market for our forestry industry.
As for imports of products from Jordan into Quebec, we import very few. A little less than $8 million worth are imported into Quebec, and they are mostly limited to textiles and clothing and also some exotic fruits and nuts.
Why, then, would we support a free trade agreement between Canada and Jordan? Simply because there are other factors motivating this agreement, such as the importance of balancing our support in the region. Because Canada already has a free trade agreement with Israel, it would be good for us to sign one with Jordan, too.
Jordan is a small country that is constantly modernizing. This sends a clear message to the rest of the Middle East that we can do business with a country that does not engage in protectionism and navel-gazing.
As I said when I began my speech, the Bloc Québécois is very much in favour of this agreement, because it believes that the agreement could be good for Quebec. The Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec also believes that this is a good agreement that does not present any problems. Since the Jordanian agriculture sector is small, our farm producers will not likely to be affected. Another factor I mentioned earlier should also be considered, and that is the possible development of a market for our pulp and paper industry. Because of its climate, Jordan has very little in the way of forest resources. We believe that Quebec's pulp and paper industry could benefit from increased opportunities in that country.
However, we do have some concerns about the growing number of bilateral agreements. I said earlier that Canada has negotiated no fewer than 29 bilateral agreements.
There is a difference between bilateral and multilateral agreements. Bilateral agreements are country-to-country agreements and are not subject to international standards.
Openness to trade and the establishment of international regulations to counter protectionism and protect investment are good things that the Bloc supports. Quebec is a trading nation. Our businesses, especially the high-tech firms, could not survive in the domestic market alone, and they know it. They need to export.
But it would be naive and wrong to say that all is well in the world of free trade agreements. While freer trade has led to greater wealth overall, it has also produced its share of losers.
Trade liberalization can only be profitable if it is guided by certain rules. We can already see the downside of unbridled, uncontrolled liberalization: heavy pressure on our industry, offshoring and trade agreements that are licence to exploit people and the environment in developing countries. This is one of the reasons we do not want Canada to sign the free trade agreement with Colombia. We believe that this agreement is not good for the environment or for labour.
For that reason, the Bloc Québécois is proposing a change in Canada's trade priorities. Canada should now shift its focus from trade liberalization to creating a more level playing field. The Bloc Québécois believes that our trade policy must focus on fair globalization, not the shameless pursuit of profit at the expense of people and the environment. That means that we must not accept a trading system that results in the exploitation of poor countries and dumping in rich countries.
The absence of environmental or labour standards in trade agreements puts a great deal of pressure on our industries, mainly our traditional industries. It is very difficult for them to compete when products are made with no regard for basic social rights.
The Bloc Québécois believes that child labour, forced labour and the denial of the fundamental rights of workers is a form of unfair competition, just like export subsidies and dumping. There is what we call monetary dumping and there is also social dumping.
We make the assumption that, if a country wishes to benefit from free trade, it must conversely accept a certain number of basic rules, particularly in the area of social rights.
The Bloc Québécois is urging the federal government to revise its positions in trade negotiations in order to ensure that trade agreements include clauses ensuring compliance with international labour standards as well as respect for human rights and the environment.
In their current form, side agreements on minimum labour standards and environmental protection lack a binding mechanism that would make them truly effective.
A multipartite agreement is one where several countries are involved with a number of them having signed agreements that protect human rights, or fight against child labour or protect the environment. Hence, the union of countries automatically ensures that the agreement will ensure compliance in all these areas.
When we prepare a bilateral agreement, we often do so only to expand trade and make money. We often ignore the other aspects that should be included in an agreement. The Bloc Québécois feels that, in order to be credible on this issue, Canada should quickly sign on to the International Labour Organization's principal conventions against various forms of discrimination, forced labour and child labour, as well as those in support of the right to organize and collective bargaining.
The free trade agreement with Jordan is yet another proof that Canada has abandoned the multilateral approach. Trade promotes progress for everyone. However, even though a bilateral free trade agreement with a given country may indeed further liberalize trade, it does not allow us to apply rules to civilize trade. That can only be achieved in the context of multilateral trade.
This is unfortunate, but the World Trade Organization recently examined Canada's trade policy and noted, with good reason, that:
...Canada's participation in negotiations and preferential trade agreements sparked some concerns about resources diverted from the multilateral trading system.
In light of this, the Bloc Québécois reiterates its confidence in the multilateral process. We believe this is the only forum in which countries can work towards adopting regulations that will foster fairer globalization.
Right now, when it comes to trade, the federal Conservative government tends to drop the multilateral approach, just like it is tempted to do with foreign affairs. Because it does not have a foreign affairs policy, it cannot have an international trade policy. However, the more we see it act—29 bilateral agreements with 29 countries—the more we realize that the government's policy is only about making money and establishing a trade policy, without taking into consideration agreements that could be negotiated to promote fair international trade.
Officials from the Department of International Trade and the Department of Industry admitted to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology that they did not make any study to determine whether these agreements will benefit our economy. The House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade even contemplated a free trade agreement with China. In 2005, Canadian imports of Chinese goods totalled $32 billion and generated a $26 billion trade deficit in Canada, or $1,000 per capita. One wonders about a bilateral agreement that generates five times more imports than exports. One wonders where we are headed.
The Bloc Québécois will only support future bilateral free trade agreements if it believes they will benefit Quebec's economy. This agreement could be politically viable, and could do some good for Quebec, enabling more development of its pulp and paper and forestry industries.
We will therefore vote in favour of this agreement.