Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this legislation, the free trade agreement between Panama and Canada.
The fact is that Canada has its trade deficits today. For the first time in 30 years, we actually buy more than we are selling internationally. That is ominous for a small, open economy like Canada has that depends disproportionately on external trade for our standard of living and our wealth as a country.
If we look at where the world is headed and where the growth will be over the next five to ten years, we see that it will be in China, India and in the Asian economies. We also see a lot of opportunities in Africa, despite the governance concerns in certain countries. We see a lot of progress in Africa and we see a tremendous amount of growth and opportunity.
Then we look at the Latin American countries and increasingly it is clear that being dependent on the traditional economies of the U.S. and Europe is not where we want to be.
The fact is that the Conservative government spent its first three years in office chiding China and ignoring India. It did more to damage Canada-China relations than any government I can imagine. In fact, it imperilled a profoundly positive relationship that goes back 40 years ago to when Pierre Trudeau, a Liberal prime minister, was the first western leader to establish diplomatic relations with post-revolution China.
We know growth will be coming from Asian economies such as China and India. We also know that growth will be coming from Africa. What are the Conservatives doing with Africa? In fact, we cannot find Africa on a Conservative map. The Conservatives have completely ignored Africa. They have ignored the important opportunity and responsibility we have to transform Canada's relationship with Africa from one of aid and dependency to one of trade and opportunity. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for Canada to deepen its traditionally strong relations with Africa and to move forward as trade partners.
I want to speak to Latin American opportunities and specifically to Colombia because we face some very similar challenges.
There are a lot of natural resources in Latin America. We in Canada, of course, have a lot of natural resources. We have seen an ascension of our Canadian dollar from 62¢ back in the earlier part of 2002 and now it is almost at par. If we look at Latin American countries we see a tremendous rise in Latin American currencies. This is as a result of the demand for our natural resources, our commodities.
Throughout the Americas, both Canada and Latin America face a very similar challenge with Dutch disease and the crowding out of our traditional manufacturing sectors and jobs, which is why it is important that we work together to bring down the trade and regulatory barriers between our economies so that we can be more competitive and be competitive with some of the emerging economies in Asia.
In terms of FTAs with the region, we have had an FTA with Chile since 1997 and with Costa Rica since 2002. The FTAs with Colombia and Peru were ratified in 2010. We now have this agreement with Panama.
I had the opportunity last week to meet with President Martinelli of Panama. We discussed the free trade agreement and we discussed the need for our two countries to work together for the good of our citizens.
Panama is a country that has made tremendous progress. I actually shared a panel with President Martinelli at the World Economic Forum last week in Davos where we were discussing the trade opportunities within the Americas and the need to work together because the American political system and Congress right now face tremendous challenges when it comes to trade issues. The level of protectionism in the U.S. that is so pervasive in Congress right now is preventing the U.S. from playing the leadership role that it ought to be playing in places like Latin America.
This creates a responsibility for Canada to be a good partner with Latin American countries that face very similar challenges and some similar histories as Canada. The American protectionism in Congress right now creates a responsibility for Canada to act and to lead in Latin American but it also creates opportunities for our construction and infrastructure companies, our financial services sector and our agriculture sector.
One of the things we watched with the Colombia FTA was that after we ratified the FTA, American farmers are now putting increased levels of pressure on their legislators to get their FTA ratified with Colombia because American farmers are losing out and Canadian farmers are actually gaining market advantage in Colombia. The same will happen in Panama because it is clear that we will ratify this FTA, or I certainly hope so, in Canada before the Americans have the opportunity do it.
When we look at the roles that some of the Canadian companies are playing in the region, we see Brookfield Asset Management; AIMCo, the Alberta investment fund; the Bank of Nova Scotia which bought Royal Bank of Scotland's Colombia assets; Pacific Rubiales; Talisman; Canaccord; and Columbus Communications, a Canadian company that has 14,000 kilometres of undersea fibre optic cables throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Those are some of the important roles that Canadian companies are now playing in shaping the future of Latin America and the Caribbean region, and it just the beginning.
One of the things that has emerged over the last several years in Canada is that we have become a global centre for mining. Fifty-seven per cent of the world's publicly traded mining companies are now listed on the TSX. Eighty per cent of the volume for all mining equity financing in the world is in Toronto, which is actually 33% of global equity financing in dollar terms. To put this into perspective, the U.S. markets only account for 9%.
This gives us an opportunity to lead in these sectors, not just in terms of trade and commerce, balance sheets and financial statements, and shareholder returns and dividends, but in terms of corporate social responsibility and in terms of Canadian companies helping to set the standard in terms of social, progressive and environmentally responsible behaviours.
Last week I met with President Luis Moreno, the president of the Inter-American Development Bank. He shares with me the belief that Canada can play a leadership role in helping shape corporate social responsibility throughout the Americas by working with the Inter-American Development Bank. Canada does best when our companies and our governments work together with other governments multilaterally through agencies that we support and invest in, like the Inter-American Development Bank.
I know that some concerns have been raised about the tax haven issue, but I think it is critically important to recognize that Panama has actually proposed double taxation agreements to the Canadian government. We believe it is very important to move forward with these agreements and we want to see the government do that.
Some of the concerns that some of my colleagues in the NDP have raised have been very similar to concerns they have raised about every FTA. In fact, we could simply take out of the NDP talking points the name of the country and say that it opposes the FTA with a certain country, and then just fill in the country and add the reasons, which are basically always the same reasons. There are no new reasons because it is an ideological as opposed to a practical argument against the odd duties created by traded.
One of the arguments that the NDP members used against the free trade agreement with Colombia was that there had been some level of illicit drug trafficking and money laundering in Colombia in the past. I want to address that because if we are serious about working with the Government of Colombia and the people of Colombia to reduce that drug trade, the most important thing we can do is provide alternative economic opportunities through legitimate trade. I would argue vigorously that failure to do so would make us complicit with that drug activity.
What does one expect the people of Colombia to do if we do not trade with them and we do not provide legitimate economic opportunities? Desperate people will make their livings in the only way they know how. The best way to liberate them from the tyranny of the drug trade is to provide legitimate economic opportunity.
I also met with President Calderon last week from Mexico. One of the things President Calderon and his security advisers told me was that the success of President Uribe in Colombia, in the Colombia Plan with the United States, in stamping out the drug trade has led to the drug trade growing in Mexico.
It is a multilateral issue. Canada, the United States, Mexico, all the countries in the Andean region throughout Latin America have to work together, not just to help achieve security in one country but to help achieve security throughout. We have to do it multilaterally.
A good place to start is through free trade agreements with these countries that are moving forward and enabling Canadian businesses and farmers to participate in the opportunity of helping these countries move forward and the opportunities to prosper in Canada.