Madam Speaker, I will pick up where I left off a few weeks ago. I talked about the value of signing bilateral free trade agreements with countries around the world. That consideration is all the more relevant when we have very limited trade relations with the country in question, as is the case with Jordan.
On Monday, in my speech on the free trade agreement with Panama bill, I pointed out that trade between Panama and Canada represented an insignificant fraction of Canada's total trade with the rest of the world. We have to ask ourselves whether associating ourselves with Panama is worth risking Canada's international reputation. We could ask ourselves the same question about Jordan.
I should mention that, in 2009, total trade between Jordan and Canada amounted to barely $86 million. As with Panama, trade between Jordan and Canada is growing quickly without a free trade agreement in place.
I would like to go back to the first part of the speech I made about Jordan. We have examples of high-achieving countries around the world. I spoke about China and Brazil. They are increasing their international trade enormously without signing free trade agreements. However, these countries are very active through other means. They are using much more powerful and much more worthwhile means to increase their foreign trade and support their economy.
It is very important to take that into consideration. Because the way I see it, signing free trade agreements in such a disorganized way, without reviewing them beforehand, without determining whether or not they are small in scope, raises many more religious issues or, at the very least, the question of a basic belief that is not supported by fact—let us think of progress that we could measure and that would enable us to provide benefits to all Canadians.
This is a governmental approach that I find very worrisome. We can even wonder about the possible interpretation: as I said on Monday, is the government not sort of running away to avoid facing growing domestic problems?
I am the critic for small business and tourism. I can see that, currently in the Canadian economy, we are having problems supporting start-up companies. Entrepreneurship is seriously lacking, and the government is not taking care of that. But what the government is doing is overloading officials assigned to reviewing and implementing free trade agreements by increasing the number of superficial, artificial agreements that do not meet the needs of Canadians as a whole, for peanuts, for insignificant things that will, however, have a significant impact.
I would like to point out to the House that, if Bill C-23 is approved, Canada—without any guarantee and without having properly reviewed what is involved—will end up with ties to a country that may still have serious problems with regard to labour law.
Previously, when the NDP had serious concerns about this, it had learned and understood that there were outrageous cases of exploitation of foreign workers. A concrete example would be what is happening in the textile mills in Jordan. People were working in atrocious conditions, were living in totally inhumane conditions and were practically treated like slaves.
Jordan wanted to achieve some progress in that regard. But is it enough so that Canada can associate with Jordan without causing serious harm to Canada's reputation, since it has such a strong influence on the international scene? That is the situation Canada is in. That is why the NDP does not necessarily oppose at all costs entering into a free trade agreement with Jordan or any other country in the world. However, the NDP insists that we must have sufficient guarantees before we will support it.
As a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade—which is often dysfunctional and is too easily denied the basic tools needed to assess the work of officials and the minister in question, as well as free trade agreements under negotiation or already concluded—I am quite concerned.
The fact that the NDP agrees that this bill should be sent to committee for examination is in no way a blank cheque. This does not mean we fully support the bill as it currently stands. We still have questions and concerns. This does nothing to put an end to the attitude shown by this government, which is simply using one distraction after another to try to hide all the deficiencies in its management, not to mention all the scandals that keep emerging.
I have the honour of being part of a very young caucus; many NDP members are in their twenties. This agreement commits Canada for a long time, indeed, for a very long time. A parallel can be drawn here. A free trade agreement is almost like a marriage contract between two people. That is why we must examine it very carefully, in order to weigh the pros and cons and to know what we are committing to.
Unfortunately, sometimes in matters of the heart, a union between two people is entered into lightly and too quickly, which can be disastrous. The Government of Canada has adopted a rushed and reckless approach. I would encourage all hon. members of this House and all the members of the committee to participate in an open, clear and transparent review.
If the government wants the unanimous support of this House for this bill, then it should involve all the parties concerned, which it is not doing. At least, it has not so far. For the six years the Conservative Party has formed the government, it has shut everyone else out. It makes me wonder what that means for the interests of our country and for our future. It is not a healthy approach.
That is why the NDP is showing openness so that the government can share with us, in good faith, the information it has and show us clearly, through cold hard facts, the value of this future free trade agreement.
I am going to keep an open mind even though I have been rather disappointed by the government's attitude in the past. We will, however, give a quick account of the problems with the existing agreement that the government is trying to push through the House.
We are willing to work with the government provided that it is willing to consider the problems with the current agreement. When the agreement was concluded and the NDP was able to speak to this matter during the previous Parliament, the NDP pointed out that a number of credible, independent international agencies had warned us about the general abuses endured by workers in Jordan, especially foreign workers.
Unfortunately, in some of the textile plants, there are cases of slavery. There have been some credible reports on that. Canada cannot condone this. When it comes to international agreements, our country is completely against such practices.
To sign this agreement without having a guarantee from the Jordanian government that it is addressing the problem, actively working on it and fighting the abuse of foreign workers would be an outright betrayal of our international commitments. I am sorry, but I am not prepared to put our excellent reputation on the line for the paltry amount of $85 million worth of trade in 2009.
This free trade agreement also refers to the protection of investments. Although we have not been negotiating a long time in the case of the European free trade agreement, I have worked on it a fair bit. I have said it before and I will say it again: provisions that protect investors who do business in Canada are an aberration. It makes no sense because the rule of law prevails in Canada. We have all the legal mechanisms and legal protections necessary to guarantee investors that they will be treated with respect and that their rights will not be violated. What effect can the government give to a provision to protect Jordanians, or even Europeans, who invest in Canada? Is Canada a banana republic? The government will have to account to the committee on that. The government will have to explain what this means and why it is going down that road.
The lessons of NAFTA have shown that the NDP was quite right to be cautious and to ask for guarantees. We will do so with this free trade agreement and with others.