Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-46, as I did the other day on Bill C-8 which dealt with another free trade agreement the government is proposing. This bill deals with a free trade agreement with Panama.
Obviously, free trade agreements are important to Canada given that we export over 80% of our goods, and obviously Canada needs to be competitive in the international community. It is disturbing that for the first time in over 30 years, we have a significant trade deficit. The government needs to look at a comprehensive approach in terms of how we deal with the issue of trade in the international community.
At the moment we have what I would call one-off agreements. There is one with Jordan and now there is this one with Panama. We also debated one involving Colombia. The difficulty is that our competitors are taking a much more aggressive approach. For example, we have no free trade agreements with any state in Asia. With markets such as Japan, China, India, the ASEAN members, this is very important, and a multilateral approach particularly with ASEAN would be beneficial.
We are still in negotiations with Korea; I believe we are in the seventh round now. With Singapore, we are in the ninth round. This is disturbing, given that the Americans have been reaching out. We see the Japanese concluding free trade agreements with countries as diverse as the Philippines and Mexico, yet at the same time, we are doing these small agreements.
The one with Panama is fine. We on this side of the House certainly support the bill going to committee. However, in terms of the big picture, there are real issues that we need to be grappling with on the issue of free trade. A multilateral approach gives us a bigger market. For example, ASEAN, with 590 million people from Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, et cetera, is very important, yet we are simply chipping away at it. We do not have a coherent policy in terms of how we should tackle trade issues.
As a significant amount of our trade, some 75% or 80%, is with the United States, when there is an economic downturn in that country, as we have seen, it has an impact on our economy. We need to diversify, but diversifying with Jordan and Panama is not going to solve things in the big picture. It is not going to deal with what our competitors have been doing internationally. We need to be in the game. We have been more on the sidelines. We have to engage in these major markets. There are opportunities for us out there, but the government needs to lead. The government needs to demonstrate.
A few years ago, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote a very compelling paper about China. It clearly indicated that there was no policy of the government in terms of how to engage that market. For example, Canada is a world leader in the area of environmental technology, particularly with respect to clean air, clean water and contaminated sites. This is very important work and certainly is useful for China. We need to be part of that, but we are not seeing the kind of leadership needed in order to go forward.
From that standpoint, the agreements the government has been putting forward simply focus on a very small niche. They do not deal with the kinds of issues they should be dealing with.
We are seeing an increase in protectionism in the United States. That is of concern, particularly in the area of agriculture. It means difficulties for our farmers. It is a difficulty in terms of our being able to compete in the international arena. The United States' protectionist policies are having an effect here. With respect to the America first policy, the government had discussions with the United States and changes were made in terms of Canadian companies being able to compete, but that only affected 37 of the 50 states in the U.S. It is important that we be there.
The Conservative government has not shown the kind of leadership that is needed on the multilateral side, in terms of being much more visible in the United States. Policy in the United States is not done in Washington; it is done in districts and states across the U.S. That is where we need to be focusing our efforts.
Canadian businesses can compete with anyone in the world if there is a level playing field. When there is not a level playing field, obviously we often face difficulties.
Although my party supports this bill going to committee, the fact is that we would like to see a clear strategy, particularly for the emerging key markets, such as Brazil, India, China, and Japan. We have watched and continually see the United States, Australia, and others being very aggressive, particularly in their talk about a big Asia Pacific free trade zone. If they are in first, we obviously will pick up the pieces.
I think Canadian businesses deserve more than picking up the pieces. They deserve the opportunity. Again, we have to be aggressive. We can talk free trade, but we really have to demonstrate it. The only way to demonstrate it is to show leadership.
Currently, penetrating the Korean market is an issue, particularly in the automotive sector, and the Japanese are carefully watching our discussions. If, and it is a big if, a free trade agreement were to occur between Canada and Korea, the Japanese would be particularly anxious to come to the table. At the moment, the Americans are talking to them about possible free trade.
Some people say that we could never get a free trade agreement with Japan because of agriculture. I do not know of too many people in this House who represent ridings that have a lot of rice. Rice is always the one issue the Japanese deal with. Even then, Japan was able to conclude a successful agreement with the Philippines, for example.
The issue in this agreement, and we are supportive of sending it to committee, is the Canadian merchandise we export to Panama: machinery, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, et cetera. It is a relatively small market. It is also important that we look at some of the other free trade zones in Latin America.
Latin America has developed, along with states such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile, zones in which there is a free flow of goods and where tariffs have been dropped so that businesses can compete. As a country, we need to send out a very clear message that we are prepared to enter into agreements where it is in our national interest.
Obviously, we have to look at environmental issues. This country has traditionally been a leader on climate change, clean water, and clean air issues. Countries really need that expertise.
Not only are Canadians very cost effective in terms of what they are able to produce and export, we can do it in two official languages, which is very helpful. Again, if we are not at the table, that is a problem.
We also have to look at the issue of labour co-operation. I notice in this agreement that there is a side agreement on labour co-operation. Obviously we have to expect that what we are asking is what we would demand at home, including the right to association, the right to collective bargaining, and the abolition of child labour. These are standards we have, and we would expect the same in dealing with other countries.
I know that some colleagues have concerns on the labour end of it. When it goes to committee and we have the appropriate witnesses, we can have those kinds of discussions and strengthen, if need be, those provisions. I think that is important. No piece of legislation I have seen in 14 years here has ever been perfect. That is why we send it to committee, where colleagues have an opportunity to look very carefully at legislation, hear from witnesses, and move forward.
My understanding, in terms of the major stakeholders on this particular bill with Panama, is that there are no major objections. On the whole, it is a fairly straightforward agreement. Again, it will give us some access, but we have to build on that, particularly in the Central American region in countries such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. Those countries are also looking at better co-operation. As a balance to the United States, I think Canada could play an important role.
Again, it is the whole issue of having a level playing field with access to markets. We need to be able to at least secure that. When we are looking at new partnerships, we must be able to tell our business community to go forward with the opportunity.
There were reservations about the free trade agreement with the United States and whether we could compete. Obviously, we can compete extremely well when a level playing field is available.
Canada's total exports to this particular country amount to 12.6%. Imports amount to about 17.3%. Over 80% of Canada's economy depends on trade. To keep that, we need to have as much access to markets as we can.
Former Prime Minister Trudeau, in the seventies, talked about a third option, and that third option was to diversify. If we had diversified in the seventies and eighties, maybe we would be in better shape than we are now.
Tariffs are the worst thing that can happen to a trading nation. Obviously, I am not old enough to remember the Great Depression in the 1930s, but some of my colleagues on the other side might. The first thing that happened was that major tariff barriers went up, and protectionism became rampant. That is not something we want to do. That was not good. We need to make sure that we have protection.
We also need to demonstrate leadership when it comes to issues such as climate change and the environment. The Conference of the Parties will soon meet in Mexico, and that will be an opportunity to strengthen international regimes.
Canada is traditionally well known for its international leadership, particularly in areas of multilateralism. The International Criminal Court is an example.
The 11th Conference of the Parties, in 2005, was the most successful COP ever to deal with developing a clear climate change regime internationally. That was important. The former Liberal government got a lot of accolades because of that. Again, it was because of the fact that we demonstrated leadership. We need to continue to do that. We need to continue to say to our allies and others that if protectionism is wrong, this is what we are prepared to do to focus forward.
The European Union has some very stringent policies, particularly when it comes to foodstuffs, even in terms of colouring food. We have to be able to talk about these issues with colleagues. We have seen other countries react to issues in this country, and we need to have a strong voice on those issues. Some of my colleagues, particularly those from Newfoundland and Labrador, are well aware of the issue with regard to the seal hunt.
What are we doing to educate? What are we doing to get our message out on some of these issues so that these sudden trade barriers will not come forward and harm the interests of Canadian farmers and producers, whoever they happen to be?
It is instructive to look at what went forward when we made an agreement with Israel in 1997. That was an opportunity to start further negotiations in other areas of the Middle East. Bill C-8, the Jordan agreement, will build on that. The gulf trading area, a Middle East trading area, is important all the way from the United Arab Emirates to Algeria. That is another market we could penetrate.
In other words, what is the strategy? What is going to be the policy in order for us to move forward? We on this side of the House are quite willing to work with the government to develop a strategy, because it is in our nation's interest. If we do these kinds of things, we will serve our citizens well.
Non-agricultural products, particularly fish and seafood, would be helpful for our markets, but that is only one part of the puzzle. It would be nice to see a really strong policy that the government, members of the opposition, and members of key sectors that deal with international trade really hammer out together. It would be the kind the policy and the kinds of tools we need to be much more aggressive.
The Americans certainly have not been sitting idly by. The Australians, in particular, have been very aggressive in Asia and have reaped a number of benefits. ASEAN, of course, which was getting closer on trade issues with China, now realizes that they cannot put all their eggs in one basket. They are wondering where Canada is on the international stage. They see where the Australians and the Americans are, and they are saying that we need to be there.
Some people do not know that in Indonesia, for example, we are the fifth largest investor, particularly in the area of mining, but our approach is not necessarily coherent. It is not necessarily a policy to say, “Go out there and good luck”. That is not the way to build good trade relations.
Obviously, we support the faster elimination of tariff barriers, particularly in those areas that are important to Canadian industry. In this agreement, Panama will see the elimination of at least 90% of current barriers on goods coming from Canada, which is obviously a positive, but where are those big deals we need to hear about in the House? Where are those big negotiations going on?
On this side, we are watching very carefully the issue of Korea. That is very important because of the nature of that market. We need to be able to say to our businesses that there are tremendous opportunities out there. We do not want to be dealing just with our American friends, which is great, but given policy there, we need to make sure that we are at the forefront.
We were one of the first major countries in China. We had a tremendous opportunity there. Mr. Chrétien led a number of Team Canada missions there in the 1990s. We were leaders. Unfortunately, relations with China changed with the current government, and we lost a lot of ground.
We have to continue to have a consistent policy on how to deal with our trading partners. We cannot be all things to all people. We have to have a particular niche. For example, on the environment, we could have a whole Team Canada just dealing with environmental issues in the Pearl River Delta. There are days when the smog is so thick it rolls into Hong Kong and one cannot see across the harbour. We need to take advantage of those things.
People cry out and say that they need to see Canada there. It would be very helpful if we would do that. Although we will support the bill going to committee, we want to look at the issue of labour to make sure that the guarantees are there. We want to make sure that if these things can be strengthened, that will be done. We welcome the opportunity, but we want to see the bigger picture. We want to see more emphasis on multilateralism, and if that goes forward, it will benefit Canada in our future trading relationships around the world.