Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to speak to this issue. I will be speaking in favour of sending this legislation to committee where I hope to see amendments welcomed to make this free trade agreement more humanitarian, more environmentally friendly, and definitely more beneficial for Jordan and Canada.
Many people probably are wondering how big Jordan is. Jordan is a small country. It is one of our trading partners but it is not one of our top trading partners. Out of our top 100 trading partners around the world, Jordan is ranked 88th. We do a fair bit of trade with Jordan. Our two-way trade amounts to $85.9 million. We export about $70.1 million and we import $18.7 million, mainly in clothing and textiles. If we compare that to Norway, which is ranked 10th out of all of our trading partners with exports to Norway of $2.5 billion, we can see that Jordan is important but it is not as large a contributor to our imports and exports. This begs the question: Why must there be a free trade agreement with Jordan?
We should be looking at facilitating trade around the world with many different countries. We are living in a global economy and we need to address many of the global issues.
I have been doing some research, although I must admit it has only been a very little amount because of the timing. It seems to make sense to me that this treaty with Jordan would be significant not only because we already have a good relationship with Jordan, but because it is also seen as a gateway to the rest of the Middle East and northern Africa. As such, it may not be significant on its own, but it would give us a foothold and open that gateway into other countries. We cannot ignore that.
I have also noticed that the diaspora from Jordan is very active. According to the last census, about two-thirds of them live in the Toronto area. Part of the diaspora lives in my community of Newton--North Delta as well. They are Canadians who contribute to our society but for very good reasons have kept strong links with their home country.
As we look at what is happening internationally, it is always good to explore markets around the world, big and small. At the same time, we have to look at what that means.
I want to refer to NAFTA. I was not in Parliament when NAFTA was negotiated, but I do know that some of the fallout from NAFTA has not been good for Canadians.
In my province of B.C., logs are being loaded on trucks to be shipped to the United States while towns in B.C. are turning into ghost towns and dormitory towns as the mills close down.
In British Columbia and other provinces, people see well-paying jobs that gave them some security with respect to health care and pensions going over the border. They are wondering what free trade really means. Does it mean that we give away Canadian jobs? That is the question that has to be asked every step of the way.
We always hear that there will be a review panel to review this and that. My experience with review panels has not been all that great.
Let us look, for example, at the administration to the south of Canada. After all, we did sign NAFTA with the Americans. Their government blatantly said in a speech to the nation that companies that bring jobs back into the United States will get greater tax benefits, and it will look favourably on companies that create jobs at home.
Whenever we look at free trade agreements, we often feel that we cannot raise those kinds of issues, or how often do our government negotiators do that. Other countries do not shy away from protecting their jobs at home. The Americans do not shy away from offering extra tax incentives to keep companies at home, growing jobs at home, instead of contracting out to call centres and manufacturing places all over the world.
That is one side of the free trade agreements that we always have to be aware of, the net effect on working people right across this country.
The other side of the coin is we always have to pay attention to what happens in the country that we have signed a bilateral agreement with. We have signed some bilateral agreements with countries to the south of us. In my previous life, as the president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and then with the Canadian Teachers' Federation, I had the privilege to travel to many countries where I saw the sweatshops and the working conditions. I saw the beautiful roads that bring goods up to the north. However, once one leaves those main arterial routes, what one sees is abject poverty.
Canadians have to ask themselves if that is what they want for their future. Do they really want to see child labour? Do they want to see children in deplorable working conditions? Do they really want to save a few pennies while those kinds of working conditions occur in other countries?
Let us look at the labour situation in Jordan. From all accounts it is not that great. However, to give Jordan credit, it has signed agreements and protocols. Unfortunately, very little enforcement is taking place. As a trading partner, do we really want to finalize this trade agreement if we do not see some teeth given to enforcement?
The United Steelworkers Union supported this free trade agreement in the beginning. Then it began to see what the working conditions were like.
Charles Kernaghan, the U.S. National Labor Committee executive director, testified that after nine years of a U.S. trade agreement, thousands of foreign guest workers in the Middle East kingdom continued to be stripped of their passports, forced into 99-hour--let me stress that, 99-hour--workweeks and were denied their rightful wages while being housed in bedbug-infested dorms.
Even though the USW had supported the U.S.-Jordan trade deal when it was negotiated in the early days, it now says that it was a decision its union has come to deeply regret. It no longer supports it. The U.S.-Jordan trade deal immediately descended into the trafficking of tens of thousands of foreign workers to Jordanian factories.
We know that Jordan is very dependent on migrant domestic workers as well. Some of them are not just hired as domestics to work in people's homes, but to work in textile factories as well. Once migrant domestic workers are hired, there is very little mobility for them. They are at the mercy of their employers. It is not easy for them, even after years of service, to change employers. Therefore, though Jordan has committed in a side agreement to address labour laws, it behooves us to do due diligence and to make sure that we see some action on enforcement.
Human Rights Watch Canada, in October 2011, released a report called “Domestic Plight: How Jordanian Law Officials, Employers, and Recruiters Fail Abused Migrant Domestic Workers”. The report details the absolutely deplorable working conditions for domestic workers. Most of these workers come from countries where people are desperate to go somewhere to make a living. They come from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines and India. The report shows that very little has changed since these issues were first raised in 2010. That definitely should draw our attention and should push us. I am sure our negotiators will be pushing hard on that. We will be looking for some commitments to that at the committee stage.
When we do free trade with another nation, we have to look at not only what we gain out of that deal but what kind of an impact it has on development within that nation. For example, should foreign investors get a higher level of protection than investors from within Jordan? I would say absolutely not. It is so colonial in many ways to say, “We are coming in, we trade with you and therefore we should get better investment protections. Our companies, individuals from Canada who invest in Jordan, should have better, superior provisions for the protection of their investments than Jordanians themselves”.
I do not know how we could look at ourselves in the mirror if we were to sign such agreements. Certainly, I know that as a Canadian, it is very difficult when foreign corporations have better rights than Canadians. Therefore, why would I want to support something that would give such lack of protection to Jordanian investors? As part of the agreement we should absolutely ensure that no such two-tier system, one for foreign investors and one for native investors, is created.
It is very similar when we look at environmental issues. We live in a global economy. We live in a world that is shrinking every single day it seems. We can watch what is happening in our living rooms. I can turn on my TV and see what is happening in drought-ridden Africa. I can see the abject poverty and the need for humanitarian aid immediately. I can see the violence in Syria and experience it, sitting in my chair in my living room.
In the same way, our environment is not confined within different countries. Whenever we negotiate, it is absolutely imperative, not only for our generation but for the generations to come, that we pay special attention to ensuring that we build in environmental protections. Whatever happens in Jordan, whatever regulations it adopts, has a direct impact not only on Jordan and countries surrounding it but really on the whole globe, just we know that the clearing of the rain forests has a direct impact on our climate here. Therefore, it is imperative for our world's existence that we pay special attention to addressing environmental issues.
It is often easy to say that it can be a sidebar deal, we will deal with it later, or that we cannot really push for environmental issues until after we are a trading partner. One lesson I have learned is that we have a far better chance of getting somewhere when we still hold some chips in our hands. We do, so let us not put that one off.
It is the same with human rights. I have not changed my position in the House over the years. As a nation we have a very proud history not only for advocating for human rights around the world but for being champions of human rights around the world. Over the last few years, we have seen that reputation tarnished a bit. Yesterday in committee I heard about a comment made in South America that Canada no longer really cared about our reputation overseas and that we do not have the kind of reputation we used to have. I can tell the House that Canadians care very deeply about our reputation around the world.
When I was much younger, I travelled around Europe from England. I was always amazed at how many Americans had the Canadian flag attached to their backpacks. Those were the days when I could travel with a backpack. I do not think I could do that today. I often asked these young Americans why they were not wearing their American flag. They said that they got much better treatment when they wore the Canadian flag, that people treated them totally differently. Before leaving the U.S. they would try to acquire a Canadian flag to sew onto their backpacks or wear, to show that they were from Canada. They said they were welcomed and that people would want to speak to them and tell them about the amazing work we were doing on human rights issues, on addressing poverty and on working with developing countries. We were known as peacekeepers, as a nation that brokered peace and because of that they had a great deal of admiration.
However, in my opinion, we no longer have a seat on the United Nations Security Council, thanks to the actions of the government. Canada no longer has that untarnished image as peacekeepers. I would say that it behooves us, and I plead with the government, to make sure that as we are looking at signing free trade agreements, be it with China, Jordan or any country around the world, that we absolutely make human rights a central issue. We have to make sure that we are there not only as advocates but that we make it one of our conditions, and that we put some teeth into those negotiations to enforce human rights in those countries.
We have heard the argument that we can do that after we become a trading partner. We need to be doing that now. As I said at the beginning, I am supporting the bill going to committee, where New Democrats will be raising those concerns.