Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here in the House today to talk about the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act.
Our government recognizes that trade and investment are the cornerstone of our economic success as a nation. In Canada, 60% of our GDP and one in five jobs depend on trade. While our economy has outperformed much of the world in recent years, we cannot take our success for granted. Hard-working Canadians are counting on us to continue to expand markets and open doors for our businesses to succeed around the world. That is what our pro-trade plan is all about. It is the most ambitious plan of its kind in Canada's history.
The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act being debated here today is yet another step this government has taken to help Canadians compete and succeed in the global economy. Canadian businesses have long been asking for closer ties with Panama. This government will deliver.
Panama is an innovative, dynamic and rapidly growing economy that offers huge commercial opportunities for Canadian firms. According to a recent report published by the CAPA Centre for Aviation, Panama is the fastest growing economy in all of Latin America. It is expected to be the fastest growing economy in Latin America for the next five years. In 2010, Panama's real gross domestic product growth was 7.5%. It is expected to expand at an equivalent rate in 2011.
This growth, driven by the expansion of the Panama Canal and other major infrastructure projects, represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses. It is important that Canadian firms establish an early presence in this emerging market and build solid relationships that will provide them with a competitive edge. However, the remarkable economic phenomenon that is taking place in Panama is not the only reason this government seeks to forge closer economic ties with this regional partner. Panama holds a unique and influential position in the global trading system, thanks to the Panama Canal. Panama represents an entry point for the broader region, thereby enabling access to neighbouring markets. Canada and Panama enjoy positive and expanding relations built on shared values. Our policies and objectives in the region are well aligned. Panama is a like-minded partner that has demonstrated its commitment to aligning its laws and regulations to international standards.
For example, Panama has made significant strides with respect to transparency in the area of taxation. In recognition of these improvements, in June 2011, the OECD formally placed Panama on its list of jurisdictions that have substantially implemented the international standards for exchange of tax information. This is an important milestone. It demonstrates Panama's progress in fulfilling its commitments to combat international tax evasion.
The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act would mark a new chapter in the Canada-Panama relationship. We have negotiated a high quality and comprehensive free trade agreement. It covers everything from market access for goods to cross-border trade in services, to investment and government procurement. This agreement would help Canadian businesses and workers compete and win in the Panamanian marketplace. It would help forge an even stronger bond between our nations in the years ahead.
The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act would create new opportunities for Canadian businesses and producers by removing the major tariff barriers that Canadian goods face when entering the Panamanian market. Currently, Panama maintains an average most favoured nation applied tariff on non-agricultural goods of 6.2%, with tariffs of 10% or more on a number of products of export interest to Canada.
Panama has agreed that it would eliminate the tariff on 89% of non-agricultural imports from Canada. The remaining tariffs would be phased out over the next 5 to 15 years. This would be a significant reduction in trade barriers expected to benefit a wide range of sectors across the Canadian economy, including fish and seafood products, paper products, vehicles and parts, construction materials and equipment, and industrial and electrical machinery.
Canadian agricultural exports would also benefit from this agreement. Currently, Panamian tariffs of Canada's main agricultural exports to Panama, which are pork, pulses and Christmas trees, range from 0% to 70%. Once this agreement enters into force, 89% of Canada's agricultural exports would receive immediate duty-free access. The Panamanians would be buying their Christmas trees without tariffs. That is great news for the Christmas tree sector, along with the pork sector and the beef sector.
Products such as beef and pork, frozen potatoes and pulses would receive immediate duty-free access. Other Canadian agriculture exports would see tariff reductions and eliminations over 5 to 15 years.
That is not all. The Canadian services sectors would also benefit from the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act. This agreement would provide Canadian service providers with a secure, predictable, transparent and rules-based environment which would facilitate access to Panama's $20.6 billion services market. Panama is a services-oriented economy offering opportunities for Canadian service providers, in particular for financial, engineering, mining and petroleum extractive services, construction, capital projects and environmental services.
On investment, the free trade agreement would grant investors access to transparent, binding and impartial dispute settlement through international arbitration. The strong obligations in this agreement would ensure the free transfer of capital related to investment, protection against expropriation without adequate and prompt compensation, and non-discriminatory treatment of Canadian investments. Panama is an established destination for Canadian direct investment abroad, particularly in the banking, financial services, construction and mining sectors. This agreement would serve to further promote this bilateral investment flow.
Among the key priorities for deepening our trade relationship with Panama are the remarkable procurement opportunities that exist in the Panamanian market.
In addition to the ongoing $5.2 billion Panama Canal expansion project, the Government of Panama has numerous infrastructure projects either under consideration or already in progress to build and improve roads, hospitals, social housing, bridges and airports. They are part of the $13.6 billion strategic investment plan from 2010-14. Among these projects is the Panamanian government's plan to construct a metro system in Panama City at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
The opportunities are out there and more are on the way. Under this agreement, Canadians suppliers would be granted non-discriminatory access to a broad range of government procurement opportunities including those under the responsibility of the Panama Canal Authority. Canadian firms possess the expertise in the areas that Panama is looking to develop. This agreement would enable them to bid competitively in pursuit of such opportunities.
However, it is important to note that many of these projects are already under way. If we delay implementing this agreement, Canadian companies risk losing out on major procurement contracts because they would not be able to take advantage of the government procurement provisions contained in the FTA. It is therefore critical that the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act be implemented without delay.
I know some hon. members have raised concerns about the potential impact of pro-trade agreements on workers. The benefits of this FTA are clear. Canada needs more growth and more jobs. But let me assure the House, this government believes that growth and jobs cannot come at the expense of workers' rights or the environment. That is why the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act would also be accompanied by an important side agreement that demonstrates our joint commitment to corporate social responsibility, the rights of workers and preserving the natural environment.
In parallel to this free trade agreement, the government has signed robust environment and labour agreements with Panama. I know that some members of Parliament here today think that Bill C-24 should be debated at length and ask why this government is in such a rush to pass this bill. The Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act was concluded and signed nearly two years ago. We have already lost tremendous opportunities by waiting to implement this agreement.
A bill to implement the Canada-Panama FTA was introduced in the 40th Parliament. The legislation was debated for 15 days and almost 30 hours. The Standing Committee on International Trade thoroughly studied this trade agreement in the previous Parliament and reported the bill back to the House without amendments.
At this point, I sincerely hope the hon. members of the House will work together to complete the debate at second reading on an expedited basis. We cannot continue to lose tremendous opportunities by waiting to implement this agreement. It is time to get the bill through the House.
It is important to note that Canada is not alone in its efforts to forge a closer economic relationship with this economy. Other countries are taking notice of Panama's potential and they are looking to gain first-mover advantage into this strong and growing market.
We in Canada cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while other countries vigorously pursue trade deals to secure market access for their products and services in Panama. Panama has an active and ambitious pro-trade agenda that includes FTA negotiations with a range of partners. Panama's FTA negotiations with the European Union were conducted in May 2010. This free trade agreement is expected to be signed later this spring and could possibly enter into force by the end of 2012.
Even more important to Canada, however, our main competitor in the Panamanian market, the United States, has completed an FTA with Panama. The United States Congress has already approved this agreement. The United States-Panama trade promotion agreement could very well come into force this year. If the House does not act swiftly and decisively, Canadian companies will be at a significant competitive disadvantage. Canadian firms will lose market share in Panama if U.S. firms benefit from preferential access to the Panamanian market while Canadian products continue to face duties.
We must act now to ensure Canadian companies compete on an even playing field and remain competitive in the Panamanian market. Closer economic ties with Panama promise to deliver further gains for Canadian exporters, investors, consumers and the economy as a whole. The benefits of a pro-trade agreement with Panama are clear. An agreement with Panama would support more Canadian jobs by enhancing our ability to export more goods and services into this market.
One of the associations I work with is ParlAmericas. I had the chance to go to Panama to speak with the diputados there about this agreement and what it means to them. This past summer I spent some personal time there with one diputado, who took me around to some of the high-risk communities that are in very poor suburbs in Panama City. He showed me just how much they rely on trade. They view trade as the ticket for the four-, five- and six-year-olds, who came running up to us looking for baseball bats or toys. Their parents and families want good jobs. They say they would have opportunities if they were allowed to compete in the world. They asked me why Canada will not sign this free trade agreement and what is taking so long.
The people of Panama understand trade. They are not scared of it. They understand that trade would bring benefits to their country just as it would to our country. That is why this is such a fair trade agreement and why the Panamanians have been asking us for so long to get this through. The ambassador for Panama here in Canada has been working around the clock trying to make sure that all members of the House understand how good this agreement is for Canada and Panama. This is a positive step forward. This is important for our companies and businesses.
When we talk about growth in Canada and our position in the world, we need to keep making trade deals like the one we have created for Panama. We also need to keep making trade deals like the trans-Pacific partnership agreement in areas like India and Korea. We have to be willing to allow our companies to compete with fair and unfettered access. That is what this government is doing.
I want to credit the Minister of International Trade for the action he has taken in this regard. This is a minister who gets it. He understands the importance of trade. He gets it because he talks to Canadian business people. He asks what he can do to help them grow their businesses, to make their businesses stronger and to ensure they continue to employ people. They tell him they want market access to Panama, Colombia and the United States. They want to make sure that when they have market access and have disputes, they can settle them. They say they simply want fair market access. Canadian companies are willing to compete and love to compete.
In my riding there are a lot of pulses grown. I have an agricultural riding and the pulse growers are ecstatic about this. They see a tremendous opportunity to sell pulses into the Panamanian market. They view Panama as a good stepping stone into the entire Latin American region for the pulse sector. They are not scared to compete. In fact, the Panamanians look at the quality of the pulses that Canada produces and the protein that comes from them. They say it is great and they are excited. If we do not have the FTA in place, another country will fill that market.
Do not think that other countries are standing still. Other countries look at the strategic importance of Panama and say they need to be there, that they cannot let the Canadians beat them there. What has Parliament done? It has delayed, delayed and delayed. There have been elections and other things that have delayed it, which are no fault of any parliamentarian, but in the same breath, there is no reason to delay now.
We need to move forward now. We need to see this agreement come to fruition. We need to allow our businesses to go down there and build those relationships in Latin America, especially in Panama. One thing we have to understand when we are dealing with Panama or any of the countries in Central America and South America, is that they deal based on relationships. Canadian companies need time to go down there and build personal one-on-one relationships with partners they can work with down there. They need the time. Canadian companies need this agreement passed so that they can go down there and take advantage of all these economic opportunities that I have talked about. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
We only need look at the growth potential of Panama, its location, the Panama Canal, the airport in Panama City, where Copa flies into, which is to be an international hub for every country in Central America and South America. There is so much potential. I would sure hate to see us delay our businesses from taking advantage of this potential.
That is why I would strongly encourage all members to look forward and talk to their constituents. The reality is that we need to get this agreement done as quickly as possible and get the bill through committee.
I would remind members it has already been vetted at committee. There is no reason for the committee to take a whole lot of time before bringing this back to the House. The committee should be able to look at previous testimony and understand the issues.
I would also remind the House that it did come back to the House from committee with no amendments, not one amendment. I would also remind the House that occurred during a minority government situation. It was a committee that had the involvement of all parties to push it through.
I would encourage my colleagues to use that co-operation as they did before to push this bill through, in order to allow Canadian companies to take advantage of the Panamanian market and allow Panamanians to experience the products Canadian companies have to offer.
Our businesses will benefit. Jobs will be created. Canada's economy will get stronger. Our constituents will thank us for that.