Mr. Speaker, I rise today 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.
As has been mentioned, Canada is a trading nation. In the global economy, it is important to get preferential agreements with countries, which is beneficial to both partners. We have seen the impact of relying too heavily on one trading partner. We have seen the government's lack of action on increasing U.S. protectionism and its failure to seize trade opportunities in China, South Korea and other countries.
The Conservative government's mismanagement of Canada's trade relations has led to the first trade deficit we have seen in over 30 years. The trade deficit record last July was $2.7 billion. Therefore, it is important that as a country we need to increase our efforts and our engagement in order to improve the economic situation, increase international trade, and help the Canadian economy.
Canada has always supported free trade. Our origins are that of a trading nation, having started with fur, wood, and other natural resources. The portion of our economic activity attributed to trade is greater than that of most other nations. Indeed, approximately 80% of our economy and millions of Canadian jobs depend upon trade and our ability to access foreign markets. We are, after all, a very small country. Our population is 32 million which, one day the U.S. ambassador told me, could fit into the State of California. Taking that perspective, we need to ensure that we make agreements that are based in the interests of Canada.
If a free trade agreement is negotiated properly, Canadian exporters benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs on their goods destined for other countries. Canadian manufacturers benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs at the Canadian border on the various materials that go into their products. Canadian consumers benefit from lower prices of imported goods when tariffs on these goods are reduced or eliminated.
I think it is important to note that people do look at the best return on their investment, and everyone is an economical shopper. In this global age, where we are exposed to just about any goods and services, it is important that when we make deals we are able to ensure a better deal for Canada.
We have heard the debate on protectionism and what steps could best promote Canadian business success and generate Canadian jobs. However, most Canadian businesses that serve domestic markets do benefit from free trade because they are forced to innovate and compete with others from abroad, provided that those abroad comply with international rules on trade, tariffs and non-tariff barriers. In the long run, Canadian businesses are more than capable of being strong, innovative, and competitive without hiding behind protectionist walls.
We know that when we are promoting trade in our green technology, as we have seen in examples such RIM et cetera, we need to be strategic and smart because we live in a global village. In that village, everyone knows what the prices are. We could go on eBay and get things from Australia that could be cheaper than what we could get in Canada. This makes businesses innovate, so they can compete in the global market.
The Liberal Party has always supported economic growth through proper free trade agreements. It also supports any initiatives that will improve access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses. It is important to note that we cannot rely heavily on one trading partner because, as was said, when the elephant rolls over, it is the poor mouse sitting next to it that might get hurt. It is important for us to be careful when we are negotiating but ensuring ensure there is freer trade with far more nations, rather than relying heavily on one partner.
Although Panama has a small economy and Canada's existing trade with that country is relatively limited, there are opportunities for Canadian businesses.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently underway and it is slated to be completed by 2014 at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. That is an interesting sum of money. The expansion is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in such areas as infrastructure and construction, as well as environmental, heavy engineering and consulting services. In the area of capital projects, opportunities will be generated in human capital development and construction materials.
Like the free trade agreements between Canada and Chile and Costa Rica, the North American free trade agreement, and the free trade agreement between Jordan, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. These are important aspects of the agreement.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement recognizes the obligations of both countries under the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Both countries are required to ensure that laws, regulations and national practises protect the following rights: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced labour, and the elimination of discrimination.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement and the agreement on the environment both include complaints and dispute resolution processes that enable members of the public to request an investigation into the perceived failures of Canada or Panama to comply with these agreements.
The free trade agreement with Panama is another opportunity to increase access to more markets for Canadian farmers and businesses. As was pointed out, our farmers need access to more markets. We are a small country and our farmers need to be competitive and innovative. This agreement will give them access.
Panama is a relatively small economy. In 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to that country, which is not as large as some trading partners. It is, however, a stable country which has made significant progress in recent years in terms of development and democracy. Canada is well placed to continue to encourage that.
In spite of the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP grew to 10.7% in 2008, one of the highest in the Americas, and is forecast at 5.6% for 2010. In 2009, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million. Canadian exports made up $91.4 million and $40.7 million in imports.
In the merchandise area, exports to Panama include: machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. In the area of service, Canadian exports include: engineering, information and communications technology.
Under the agreement Canada will eliminate over 99% of its tariffs on imports from Panama.
It is important to note that there is no debate here over the issue of human rights. As members of Parliament we may be concerned about it, but we defer on what approaches to take, whether it is through trade, opening up doors, or through the wagging of fingers. Wagging fingers is not a good idea. When I was in India, we discussed what Canada could export, and the first thing I was told was pluralism.
As the government is focusing on creating free trade agreements with other countries, it also needs to look at creating free trade agreements within provinces.