Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of 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.
Canada and Panama signed this agreement on May 14, 2010, and the bill has made quick progress through all stages to get to the third reading, since it was only introduced on September 23 of last year.
The international trade committee concluded its study on the bill in late December before the House recessed. After careful consultation with stakeholders, the committee concluded that the agreements were satisfactory, and now Bill C-46 has come back to the House.
Freer, more open trade with our neighbours benefits everyone. Through trade agreements, we strengthen our economy, increase wealth, protect labour and human rights and help ensure environmental protection.
Our country relies on trade. In fact, 80% of our economy depends on trading with our neighbours. That is why I support any initiative that improves market access for our Canadian businesses. Canada is a trading nation. Our trade roots date back to the 1600s. Indeed, our country is founded on trade.
This is why Liberals are concerned that for the first time in 30 years, Canada now has a trade deficit. Export amounts to 45% of our gross domestic product, so we definitely need to have a good trade relationship. We need successful trade policies that build and sustain relationships with our existing partners, while also securing opportunities for other nations.
However, it seems our country takes one step forward and two steps back. Consider the United Arab Emirates, for example. We are all familiar with the diplomatic negotiations with the United Arab Emirates over airline landing rights. The U.A.E. is an important trading partner for us, with $2 billion every year in trade. This dispute was about six extra flights every week. However, because it was so poorly handled, we were told to leave Camp Mirage, a military base in Dubai that has been our forward operating base for our mission in Afghanistan. It will cost taxpayers at least $300 million just to close it and who knows how much to set up a new base somewhere else. That is how important trade relationships are.
In emerging markets, for example like China and India, we have delayed or missed opportunities. In the coming years, China and India will generate some 900 million new consumers and spend some $4 trillion on new infrastructure. Yet in 2006 and 2007 our exports to China barely kept pace with the growth of the Chinese economy. In the same period, the U.S. increased its trade by some 60%. We are not only falling behind the Americans. Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, and Australia are all getting a bigger piece of the Chinese import market than we are.
As I stated earlier, the Liberals are very supportive of fair open trade and Bill C-46 does make progress in that direction. However, we are falling behind in securing the biggest emerging markets in the world. If we are to compete tomorrow, we must open up opportunities not only in Panama, but in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other emerging markets.
Even though Panama is a relatively small economy, there is much potential. In 2009 Canada exported around $90 million in goods to a small country of just under 3.5 million people. The country is relatively stable. It has made important strides in recent years with its development of democratic institutions. Through the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP still managed to grow at 10.7% in 2008, making it one of the hottest economies in the Americas. It is forecast to grow 5.6% for 2010.
Most of our exports to Panama include machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment and pharmaceutical equipment. Our service industries provide financial services and engineering, as well as information technology support. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would include open market access for goods, cross-border trade and services, telecommunications, investment, financial services and government procurement.
At the moment, Panamanian tariffs on agricultural products are around 13.4%, but in some cases they can reach as high as 260%. Removing these tariffs would generate many opportunities for the Canadian agricultural sector.
Atlantic Canada also stands to benefit very much from this free trade agreement. It accounts for 10.9% of Canadian exports to Panama.
In late January, early February of this year, 12 Atlantic Canadian companies participated in a trade mission to Panama, building on past trade missions to that country. From Newfoundland and Labrador, four companies participated in the trade mission: Blue Oceans Satellite Systems of St. John's, Cartwright Drilling of Goose Bay, Labrador, Compusult Limited of Mount Pearl and Marine Industrial Lighting Systems of Mount Pearl.
Compusult is a global leader in geospatial interoperability. Its scientific applications support environmental data gathering and management. Marine Industrial Lighting Systems was formed in 1999 and one of its Panamanian projects includes explosion proof submersible floodlights for the Panama Canal.
Panama will be expanding its strategic canal route which connects the Atlantic and the Pacific. This project is valued at over $5 billion and will provide Canadian companies significant opportunities in a wide spectrum of goods and services. The expansion of the canal will allow for increased container traffic, some of which will access ports in Atlantic Canada.
As with Canada's other free trade agreements, Chile, Costa Rica, NAFTA and Jordan, there are side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.
The Canada-Panama agreement on labour co-operation recognizes the obligations of both countries under the International Labour Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It requires that each country ensure its domestic laws, regulations and practices protect fundamental labour principles and rights at work.
The Canada-Panama environment agreement would allow any person who resides in either country to request an investigation of alleged violations of that country's environmental laws.
This free trade agreement contains sufficient protections for labour and the environment, ensuring that they are not compromised for the sake of trade.
As for the future, Canada needs to focus on emerging markets, Panama and the Americas, as well as India, China, Russia and Brazil. We must do so with haste and ensure more available markets for Canada's goods and services.
I hope my colleagues in the House will join me in supporting Bill C-46 so Canadian business and the people of Canada and Panama can benefit from freer, more open trade.