Mr. Speaker, when things heat up, I am always happy to step in. I intend to calm the waters. I am not saying that my speech will be boring; I am sure it will not be. As the hon. member for Bourassa knows very well, and as he has just said, we in the Bloc Québécois always have interesting things to say, particularly when it comes to free trade agreements.
It is my pleasure to rise on this issue, particularly because with all the time allocation motions the Conservative government has imposed on us recently—and I certainly do not want to put ideas in their heads for the bills that are currently before the House—our turn does not come quickly or often.
So I am going to take full advantage of it to talk about the Conservative government’s free trade policy since it came to power and more specifically about Bill C-23, the free trade agreement between Canada and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I had the opportunity to address this issue several times in previous Parliaments. The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill. Canada has already signed a free trade agreement with Israel. We are familiar with the unique sensitivity of that region and the conflicts that go on there. The message to be sent would be positive, in fact: it would be about signing a free trade agreement with a country like Jordan.
Obviously, if you look at things through Quebec’s eyes, you can understand the reason why we support this bill. Obviously, we will always weigh all the factors to determine whether this free trade agreement is good or bad for the Quebec economy. We are not opposed to all free trade agreements, nor are we in favour of all such agreements. Obviously, the pros and cons have to be weighed in relation to the Quebec economy.
In the case of Jordan, we are not going to argue that this is going to be an extremely fruitful free trade agreement, but it may be worthwhile, particularly for the agricultural sector. There is not a lot of water in Jordan; not a lot of crops are grown or livestock raised. So this is a door that may be worthwhile for the agricultural sector. I will offer some statistics in a moment about our trade with that country. They will prove that it is not enormous at the moment, but every door that is opened in this respect may be worthwhile.
Lumber might also be a worthwhile avenue for Quebec; certainly pulp and paper would be. This affects me specifically, as does agriculture, because companies like Cascades and Domtar are well established in my riding. These are possibilities for the pulp and paper industry, the Quebec industry that already exports the most to Jordan, in fact.
I have statistics dating from 2008. I have not found any that are more recent. At that time, trade between Canada and Jordan totalled $92 million, which is a long way from the numbers we are currently hearing in relation to the free trade agreement being negotiated with the European Union. Of that $92 million, $35 million came from Quebec and $25 million came from the pulp and paper industry. So that is why I was saying that this avenue was worth exploring. In fact, Quebec is the Canadian province that has the most trade with Jordan: 45% of current trade originates in Quebec. As I said, Canadian exports total $92 million, and that will undoubtedly improve somewhat, thanks to this free trade agreement. So we can conclude that it will also improve for Quebec.
Reports suggest that Jordan is currently in the process of modernizing its government and economy. It is a country where education is very important. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, promoting trade with this country could send a clear message of support to other Middle Eastern countries in this regard. As I was also saying, Canada has already signed a free trade agreement with Jordan's neighbour, Israel. By signing this agreement with Jordan, Canada would demonstrate a degree of balance in our interests in that part of the world, given the strained political relationship between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, including Jordan.
What currently concerns us about the Conservative's approach to these free trade agreements is that they have chosen to sign bilateral agreements. Everything we are hearing right now about the development of international trade involves opportunities for bilateral free trade agreements. They recently signed such agreements with Colombia and Panama. They are holding discussions with the European Union, which is not, of course, one country.
The Conservatives have basically abandoned the Doha round. All multilateral agreements have been put on hold and other free trade agreements are being discussed, including a very significant one with China.
This is obviously a problem for us because this approach is much less effective than a multilateral approach for the development of fairer trade that respects the interests of all nations. For example, in the Doha round, developing countries placed considerable hope on a multilateral agreement. However, the richest countries in the world are not listening at all and are not interested in changing things, which means that multilateral free trade agreements are constantly being blocked. Canada is clearly not helping this cause.
We want to see a change in trade priorities. Canada should now shift its focus from trade liberalization to creating a more level playing field. The Bloc Québécois believes that our trade policy must focus on fair globalization, not just on the pursuit of profit at the expense of people and the environment. We want the new free trade agreements to include enforceable provisions that require respect for minimum standards related to human rights, labour laws and respect for the environment.
Some will say that such is not the case with all bilateral free trade agreements. Of course, we had evidence of that this week when we again discussed the free trade agreement between Canada and Panama. Panama is a tax haven. How can we accept, in 2012, that a country like Canada would enter into a free trade agreement with a country where it is still possible for banks and big companies to take advantage of tax havens? Moreover, in Canada, there is still nothing in place to prevent such practices. There are some provisions, but they contain loopholes that make such practices still possible. What message are we sending to big companies, banks and not exactly right-thinking people—not right-wingers—who see that Canada has decided to enter into a free trade agreement with Panama? The message is obviously to step right up: the door is open and tax havens are ready for business.
We cannot agree to this kind of free trade agreement. Another quite recent free trade agreement was the one with Columbia, a country where human rights are violated, journalists are murdered or imprisoned, and unions are completely banned.
I cannot understand why free trade agreements are still being entered into with these nations in the belief that the situation in these countries is going to improve, perhaps magically, as a result of signing a trade agreement. Rather, we are sending the opposite message: that it is not a problem; that in these countries abuses of power are okay; that the people in these countries can be treated in ways we would not do here, in our country, to our people. These countries are given the impression that our concerns are not serious because we will trade with them regardless, and everything will be fine and dandy. That approach is not at all credible. That is why multilateral agreements fundamentally improve the situation.
In their current form, side agreements that deal with minimal labour and environmental protection standards lack a binding mechanism that would make them truly effective. That is what we want to see in future free trade agreements.
In order to be credible on this issue, there must be swift compliance with the major conventions of the International Labour Organization against discrimination, forced labour, which still exists in countries with which we trade, child labour, which unfortunately still exist today, and also conventions regarding the rights of union associations and free negotiation.
That being the case, all the free trade agreements need to be reviewed to ensure that we are dealing with countries that are, at the very least, on the right track, countries that are prepared to make the changes needed to be able to trade. I have always thought that, before approving a free trade agreement like the one we are planning to sign with China, we should put our cards on the table and be satisfied that such countries will comply with our minimum standards, that there are no children working and no union leaders in prison, and that sound environmental practices are being followed.
I am not sure that in the early stages of discussions with China we will succeed in having that country adopt basic environmental standards. Take agriculture, for example. When products are imported from China, we do not know how they were grown, or what water and pesticides have been used. Even today, products enter Canada even though in some instances their quality is clearly dubious. There have been scandals. There was the scandal in China over melamine in milk. There were scandals over toys in which the concentration of lead was much too high. It is therefore important to ensure that changes have been made before any bilateral agreements are signed with countries like China.
For some years now, Jordan has been demonstrating that it can conduct trade operations in a manner that Quebec finds acceptable. Jordan can be trusted and trade relations with that country would be beneficial to both parties. The figures I gave just now make it clear that these free trade agreements are not on the same scale as the one that is currently being negotiated with the European Union.
There is another way the government negotiates free trade agreements that is open to serious criticism. For the free trade agreement with the European Union, the issue of supply management was left on the table for the first time. Historically, all governments and parties have always excluded supply management for our farmers—poultry, milk and egg producers, an approach that has been very beneficial for both producers and consumers. We have always excluded supply management so that countries could not interfere with our tariffs and try to sell more products to us. Unfortunately, with the European Union, we left the supply management system on the table. This is extremely worrisome, even though the Conservatives are telling us not to worry about it, and that they will comply with the motion I moved and sponsored in 2005 to tie the hands of Canadian negotiators with respect to international supply management.
The fact remains that there is no transparency in the discussions between the European Union and Canada, nor in any free trade agreement. The time has come for Parliament to do what other countries do, so that the details of these agreements can be discussed while negotiations are underway, in order to remain informed about the substance of the discussions and be able to comment on the nuts and bolts of free trade agreements.
As for Canada and the European Union, we have no idea whether there have been discussions on supply management. We can sometimes learn things from leaks—for example that the French would like to send us more cheese. If the French sent us more cheese, Quebec, which is a major producer of cheese, might suffer the consequences. It is essential to remain extremely cautious.
I have been speaking about agriculture, but the same arguments hold for Quebec culture. It is important to pay careful attention with this kind of free trade agreement. Although transparency is the norm today, it is unfortunately not the case with the Conservative government.
The bilateral agreement approach is not the right one. When we are presented with bills like the one we are discussing today, Bill C-23 between Canada and Jordan, they have to be treated on a case-by-case basis. This particular bill needs to be examined in light of what is stated in the free trade agreement. Frankly, it is impossible to say that it is not a good agreement. We will therefore agree to vote in favour of it.
A small word of warning about water exports. I spoke about them in one of my speeches during the previous Parliament. I know that in the bill to implement the agreement between Canada and Jordan the issue of water, whether in liquid or gaseous form, is excluded, but this is not explicit in the free trade agreement itself.
Perhaps the negotiators could take note of this information; it could also be discussed in committee. Just now, I was speaking about the possibilities of agricultural trade. One of the reasons Jordan does not grow many crops is that it does not have a lot of water. It would be highly undesirable, for any current or future agreements, if we were to begin to think we could use water—particularly water from Quebec, which is very well endowed in this respect—to encourage other countries to import a lot of water. Our view is that trade in water should be completely excluded. Hence it would perhaps be a good idea not only to specify this prohibition in the implementing legislation, but to do the same in the agreement itself.
In spite of everything, it is possible to have productive dealings with Jordan for all those reasons. As I was saying earlier, in that part of the world, it is important as a symbol to show that we are open to trade not only with Israel, but also with other countries such as Jordan. It is a good example to hold up. Because we know that, at the moment, the Conservative government tends to have blinkers on and to take the side of one country only—not to mention any names, but it is Israel. This message that we are sending seems to me to be much more a message of openness, and the result will be that everyone will benefit.
In terms of future agreements, we must also make sure that we do not negotiate free trade agreements blindly, with no regard for human, environmental and labour rights. If we do, we will end up with free trade agreements like the one with Colombia. I can hardly wait to see if there will be any improvements because of that free trade agreement. I am sure there will not be, because we are sending the opposite message.
We are telling them to carry on, that there will be no problem, that they are going to make money and do business without anyone even rapping them on the knuckles or warning them that there will be no trade until they have improved their situation. That is a bad example. There are good examples, such as when it is possible to trade with countries that have good intentions, though they may not necessarily be at the level of Canada or Quebec. In that context, Jordan is a really interesting case.
From Quebec's point of view, looked at through our eyes, we do not have the luxury of saying no to all attempts at free trade, given all the small and medium-size businesses we have everywhere. I call on all Quebec members to bring themselves to accept that we can negotiate free trade agreements with certain countries. This is one of them. Panama is not a good example, and neither is Colombia. But in this case, given the figures, while there is not necessarily any money to be made, there is an interesting opportunity certainly for agriculture and forestry, both of which need opportunities badly, and why not also for pulp and paper, as I mentioned.
Perhaps I am being a little self-serving in this because, in my constituency, it will be very attractive for companies like Cascades and Domtar. We also have Kruger in the area. The opening of these opportunities is the reason that the Bloc Québécois has decided to support the principle of this bill.