Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.
I am pleased to do so because I have the sense that by participating in this debate, much as our party critic in this area did, one is really doing something positive, not only for the Quebec nation, but also for the Canadian nation. Indeed, some members of this House are taking a back door approach in order to sign a free trade agreement that will be extremely harmful to Panamanians, Canadians and Quebeckers.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will not support this implementation bill, and for a reason that is very important to us: Panama is a tax haven. Not only is it a tax haven, but it is on the OECD's grey list. Accordingly, it is a tax haven that does not co-operate with the OECD and does not sign the agreements set out by that organization.
Furthermore, Panama has seriously repressed its union movement. I would remind the House that in June 2010, the Panamanian government passed Law 30, which is considered to be very anti-union by the World Federation of Trade Unions and the International Labour Organization.
Of course, the government members will tell us that the president of Panama announced on August 5, 2010, that he plans to comply with all ILO conventions and remove the repressive aspects of the law. So far, however, no such action has been taken and we can only wonder what the real scope of the labour co-operation agreement with Panama will be. In that regard, I would also like to point out that the other co-operation agreements we have signed, whether concerning the environment or labour rights, have never been very effective and have never produced anything beyond meetings and symposiums. They have never led to any corrective measures when it comes to labour rights. Therefore, that is our second reason for opposing this free trade agreement.
I would also like to add that the Bloc Québécois is not completely inflexible on this issue. In 1994, the Bloc Québécois, who had been in the House for one year, supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, although, at that time, the Bloc was unaware of the magnitude of the effect that chapter 11 would have on the protection of American and Mexican investments in Canada. Clearly, this chapter also applies to the protection of Canadian investments in the United States and Mexico.
The fact remains that we supported this agreement at the time. We also supported free trade agreements with northern European countries. A Conservative member mentioned it earlier. We have absolutely no problem with this.
We are following with great interest the negotiations for an agreement with the European Union, despite the fact that we have some concerns, we are waiting for explanations and we would like to see the documents. I would like to remind the members of the House that the unions have been asking for these documents. As parliamentarians, we should have them, as has been the case in the past. Surely, the members remember how, several weeks before the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the governments that were negotiating agreements around the free trade area of the Americas made their negotiation documents available. That is certainly not the case with Panama and the European Union. However, we must still give the government the benefit of the doubt. Quebec and the Bloc Québécois are among those who have been promoting a free trade agreement with Europe for an extremely long time already, at least a decade. We hope that such an agreement will yield positive results for Canada, Quebec and the European Union.
Once again, in certain cases, we do not support the signing of trade agreements with countries that do not abide by a certain number of rules. Such is the case with Panama and Colombia. It is absolutely unbelievable that the Canadian government would be so irresponsible as to want to sign an agreement with Colombia, knowing full well that human and labour rights are violated there on a consistent and repeated basis.
It is evident that what is important is to have a position based on principles. Yes, we support opening borders, but we also support complying with major international agreements on human rights, labour rights, environmental rights as well as cultural diversity, which is extremely important.
In the case of Panama, the situation is even more serious and, in my opinion, this has not received sufficient attention in this debate. An article appeared in Le Devoir on January 10, 2011, entitled “The Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement—Cozying up to the Drug Trafficking Paradise”. It was written by Alain Deneault, the author of Offshore, paradis fiscaux et souveraineté criminelle, and Claude Vaillancourt, who is the co-president of ATTAC-Québec. Not only is Panama a tax haven that does not co-operate, even by OECD standards, but it is a tax haven that makes life easier for drug traffickers. And that is the kind of bill promoted by the Conservative government. It says it is tough on crime. It is tough on petty criminals, but it is the friend of big-time criminals and we have the proof: the Panama free trade agreement it is trying to make us accept.
I would like to read a paragraph from this article in the January 10, 2011 issue of Le Devoir.
Panama certainly deserves its bad reputation. This country's main economic activity is providing financial services to drug traffickers and multinationals. It has specialized, among other things, in discount flags of convenience, without any bureaucratic red tape. This allows vessels to sail without worrying about domestic laws and sailors' working conditions.
Capital enters and leaves Panama without any restrictions. Transactions are protected by banking secrecy rules, and there is no monitoring of financial activity. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is nevertheless fairly accommodating when it comes to evaluating how co-operative tax havens are, has placed Panama on its “grey list”.
Panama is a tax haven, and one that makes life easy for drug traffickers and money launderers. We are talking about organized crime, the mafia and other criminal groups or organizations. This will have disastrous effects on Panama. It will allow organized crime groups from Canada to launder their money in Panama. It will also allow some organizations that are currently located in Panama to benefit from the rules in the free trade agreement and locate here, in Canada and Quebec.
I remind members that the OECD has come up with four criteria to determine whether a country is a tax haven. The first is whether the jurisdiction imposes no or only nominal taxes. For example, I remember the case of Barbados—I believe—where the tax rate is regressive instead of progressive. The higher the profits, the lower the tax rate. They start with the wonderful rate of 3% and go right down to the alarming rate of 1%. Since Canada has signed a double taxation treaty with Barbados, if a Canadian company operating in Barbados meets a certain number of administrative criteria and has paid that wonderful tax rate of 1% on its profits, it is able to repatriate money to Canada tax free. That was the first criterion.
The second criterion is a lack of transparency. I have already said that Panama fits the bill. The third criterion is whether there are laws or administrative practices with respect to the exchange of information. Panama has refused to sign the 12 bilateral agreements to meet the OECD standards. The fourth criterion is whether there is any indication that the country is attracting investments solely for tax purposes and not for the purposes of economic activity.
Panama fits that definition of a tax haven. As I mentioned, since it has refused to sign the 12 agreements, it is currently on the grey list. So before we implement this agreement, we must be certain that Canada has signed a tax treaty with Panama and that Panama meets the OECD criteria. Otherwise we would simply be an accomplice to international organized crime.