Mr. Speaker, today I join with others in debating Bill C-46 regarding free trade with Panama. Negotiations were concluded back in August 2009 and, according to the government, there was a comprehensive free trade agreement with Panama. The agreement also includes side agreements. We saw this pattern with regard to Colombia on labour and environment. After the negotiations were completed in August 2009, there were formal signings in May 2010.
When Bill C-46 passed second reading in October 2010, it was then referred to the committee which went through a clause by clause review of it. It is important that we and all Canadians know that the NDP brought forward amendments that would deal with some of the concerns raised by a member of the Liberal Party just a minute ago, including those around tax information, exchange agreements, double taxation, et cetera. Sadly, however, they were defeated. I will, however, put on the record that they were not just defeated by the Conservatives. They had help from the Liberal Party in defeating some of those amendments, which would have passed if there had been support from the Liberal Party.
When we look at the concerns raised by the Liberals, it is important to note that when they had the opportunity in committee to deal with those concerns, they sided with the government on this. It calls into question what the Liberal Party is doing. However, I will leave it to the Liberals to explain their dynamics on this. On the one hand, they are saying that they have concerns about tax havens. I was shocked to hear one of the members of the Liberal Party say that tax avoidance and tax havens were okay because that is a way of doing business but that we want to ensure it is reported. I will leave that for them to discuss among themselves.
However, it is very difficult to understand the Liberals' position when it comes to this bill. On the one hand they say that this is terrible and that we should not be dealing with this kind of trade agreement because of all the concerns around tax havens and double taxation. The list is long and it sounds very similar to our concerns. On the other hand, the Liberals are saying that they will vote with the government on this.
It is perplexing. I know what the Conservatives' strategy is. They have decided that multilateralism is not the way to go and so they are rushing around trying to sign up anyone to a bilateral agreement, which is precarious at best. I think it shows a lack of vision in terms of where we should be going with international trade. For the record, we have stated time and again in this House that we should be going toward a multilateral approach.
My father worked for many years as a public servant dealing with the GATT. It was important at that time for Canada to deal at a multilateral level, My father would negotiate with other countries on behalf of this country on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We know what happened to that. We know what happened with the Doha round. However, the government now says that maybe it should one day get back to that but, in the meantime, it goes down this bilateral route which undermines the whole approach of multilateralism.
Let us put aside for a second the concerns we have with this deal. Does anyone really think that signing a free trade agreement with Panama will lead to the economic prosperity of Canada? Let us get real here. We need only look at how much investment there is between the two countries. What it does is it undermines that whole intention that many of us have of going down the multilateral route. It is an opportunity that costs and it also decries this notion that we should be trying to work with other like-minded countries, particularly those in the G8 that are looking toward a fairer trade regime, and saying that we all have concerns around the way trade is done and we need to work together to ensure particularly the bigger economies in the world will follow some sort of fair regime.
However, the government is not doing that. It is going off on our own, cap in hand, to anyone who will sign one of these agreements and clearly doing it for political reasons.
As I said, no one really believes that signing a trade agreement with Panama will lead to a green and pleasant land in Canada. In fact, the government will try to spin people by saying how great it is because it is signing all these trade agreements, as if that will make a difference in lives of people. It will not. What it will do, and we have seen this in the debate and the details as we have gone over them, is make it more precarious for Canadians and also for those who are concerned about issues around international banking.
In terms of disclosure of tax revenues and investments and tax havens, the government is sending a message to the international community that it is willing to sign a deal with Panama, without having had the concerns that other governments, like France, have had about disclosure. The sequence is entirely wrong. If we thought this was the way to go, we should have dealt with the concerns of the OECD with tax havens, taxation and disclosure. However, that did not happen.
What is the message? The message is basically Canada really does not care about that. The government is so concerned about looking like it has made progress on trade, which has question marks abound, that it will look the other way when it comes to the concerns with tax havens and disclosure.
I met with ambassadors from throughout Latin America. They are very concerned about the issue of narco-trafficking. One thing said was that we had to follow the money. We have to ensure we know where the money goes.
What is the message from this country? When it comes to the issue of narco-trafficking, we will look the other way if we can put something in the window for people to see we have made progress on “free trade”. It is not principled. It is not effective. I think most Canadians, if they knew what we are signing, would oppose it. That is why it is important to take the time to debate it in the House.
I join with the members from the Liberal Party, notwithstanding their challenge in having a position and then voting the other way, that the Conservative Party is silent on this. It will not talk about it. It has a “move on, there's nothing to see here” attitude. I am not sure if the Conservatives have actually read the agreement. A great poll would be to ask those members if they had read the agreement and know what is in it. It is important to highlight that.
If we are going to be signing on to these agreements, why the hurry? Why are we not hearing from all members of Parliament on this, beyond talking points from parliamentary secretaries?
If we look at the profound effect that some of these trade agreements have had, not just on Canada, but on those we trade with, it also raises an issue. I fundamentally believe, if we are to enter into trade agreements with other countries, it should be of mutual benefit. I do not see that in this case.
We should be looking at strategic kinds of agreements within sectors. We should be ensuring they are sustainable. We should be ensuring there is mutual benefit.
When it comes to the Panama-Canada free trade agreement, we do not see that. What we see is us undermining our credibility when it comes to dealing with financial disclosure, tax havens and real fairness. For that reason, we will be opposing it. I only wish the Liberal Party would find it in itself to do the same, but we will wait for it to decide on that.