Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, we are a nation of traders, and obviously, one of the issues that clearly comes to mind is the approach we take in terms of our trade relations with our neighbours, particularly when we have about 85% trade with the United States.
Clearly what we need to have is a vision. We need to clearly have a plan as to what we need to be doing. I talked about the fact that although the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement is an interesting approach, there is a wider market in that area, in terms of the Arab free trade area, which, with 18 states, is very important. The fact is that a multilateral approach is absolutely critical. Given what has been happening in Doha, we need to really push multilateral agreements. We need to push multilateral agreements, in large part because our neighbours are clearly doing that: Australia, the United States, the EU and others. It is very important that we be a player.
Jordan is a very good example of a country in which modernization in terms of banking and monetary infrastructure has been progressing. It is a good place to invest. Obviously, we recognize that, and we want to encourage Canadian business to recognize it by bringing on organizations such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and organizations that will have an interest in participating in this type of agreement so that we can encourage the best and the brightest in this country to be on the leading edge.
Without some kind of overall strategy, these kinds of agreements are simply one-offs. We need to hear from the government in terms of what overall approach we should be taking in terms of providing leadership to deal with our competitors.
I go back to the Asian-Pacific again to say that in the Asia-Pacific, we are not a player, and we need to be, particularly in places such as Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, and others. What do they all have in common? They are all part of ASEAN. While other countries are looking at doing free trade agreements with ASEAN and the 590 million people who live there, we are standing idly by. We cannot afford to do that.
We need to be aggressive in these areas. If we are aggressive in these areas, we can compete, particularly on the environment. In the environmental area, we are experts on clean water, contaminated soils, and clean air. Environmental companies are very interested in participating there.
When I referenced my meeting, with our Minister of the Environment, in July 2007, with King Abdullah of Jordan, I mentioned the fact that they were very interested in the environmental technology this country has. Agreements like this will hopefully give Canadians an opportunity to access those markets. These are things that we should have been doing. We need to do them in a broader context as well. Without that kind of push, we are going to be left behind. We continue to do these one-offs. They are not necessarily the most productive or the most useful.
Speaking of the environment, in the agreement there are side agreements on labour co-operation and on the environment. I would point out that on the environment, one of the things I am pleased to see is that we are going to comply with and effectively enforce the domestic environmental laws and not weaken the environmental laws to encourage trade or investment. That is important. We are not going to weaken them; we are going to strengthen them.
We are certainly going to ensure that provisions are available to remedy any violations of environmental laws and to promote public awareness, because the environment is extremely important not only for Canada and Jordan, but in general, in terms of what we can provide. Providing these kinds of safeguards is obviously going to be important. They are going to be important not only for those countries and the people in those countries, but again, because we can share that expertise and get our environmental companies involved, particularly on issues of desertification and irrigation, on which we can provide expertise. Particularly in an area of the world where water is in short supply, Canadian expertise and technology can be part of the solution.
We can be part of the solution only in Jordan in the Middle East. Yet we have a trading area of 18 nations. I again point out, whether it is with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or the United Arab Emirates, that we need to be a player. I hope that the government will come back and look at the issue of expanding this in terms of a multilateral approach, which would give us more access and opportunities for Canadian business. Standing still is obviously not appropriate.
We also have the side arrangement, on the issue of labour, to guarantee freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of compulsory labour, et cetera. A colleague in the New Democratic Party raised this issue. I would suggest that this is where the Standing Committee on International Trade could bring witnesses forward to make sure that if there are areas of concern, they are addressed. Any agreement can be strengthened. It is absolutely important, for the protection of workers, to make sure that they have the ability to organize and carry out their activities free from fear, discrimination, and pressure. That is one of the aspects of this agreement. If there are opportunities to strengthen any of these, then we need to do so. They are basic human rights, and we want to make sure that they are enshrined.
Jordan has a high degree of internal security and stability. It is a free-market-oriented economy. That is something we encourage not only for Jordan but in other areas of the Middle East where we could continue to promote free-trade opportunities. In a free market, we can be a major player. Jordan has a well-developed banking and communication system. We can take advantage of that, given the expertise we have in those areas.
There is no question, in looking at tax rates for Jordanian and Canadian companies, that there are opportunities where Canada could play a role. However, we have to go back to the issue of developing a more regional approach, because other countries are doing that. Other countries are saying that in a very competitive global environment, given the economic situation around the world, we cannot sit at home; we have to be there. That is what we are hearing from the business community. I hear that from small- and medium-sized businesses all the time.
I appreciate that when we are looking at these issues and bringing those witnesses forth at committee, we will be approving simply one agreement. How do we strengthen our role internationally and competitively in a manner that really addresses Canada's strengths, whether that be the environment and dealing with climate change or telecommunications, two particular areas in which Canada is very strong.
We talked about agriculture. We have seen that it deals with subsidy issues. Agriculture is very important because we export so much. In looking at those opportunities, I mentioned the Japanese, who are able to sign agriculture agreements with countries we never would have thought of, such as Mexico or the Philippines. I think that if we really put our minds to it, we can do more. This particular agreement gives us an opportunity to say that if, in fact, we are not going to be successful at the Doha Round on the issue, we need to deal with it in a multilateral way. I know that there are colleagues here who clearly see that as an opportunity.
I hope that the Government of Canada will continue to show leadership, because our American friends, the EU, and others are not standing still. They are being very aggressive. As with the experience in Korea, we know the importance of accessing those kinds of markets, because those countries are clearly looking well beyond their shores.
We have talked about a free trade agreement with Japan. Again, the larger issue is an Asia-Pacific agreement. If we are not a player in that part of the world, if we are not a player in a larger sense in the Middle East, we are going to be left behind.
I know that my time is coming to an end. I urge colleagues to support sending it to the committee. It is important that we examine not only this bill, but again, the broader picture of where we want to be in the 21st century in terms of our trading relations. How will they strengthen our own domestic economy so that Canadians are at work and so that we can provide leadership on the world stage.