Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again enter into the discussion on Bill C-24.
Bill C-24 would implement the free trade agreement and the related agreements on the environment and labour co-operation entered into between Canada and the Republic of Panama, done in Ottawa on May 13 and 14, 2010.
We have said previously that the Liberal Party is supportive of this legislation and we remain so. However, we maintain the concerns we raised previously with respect to the fact that as the government is pursuing new agreements, it has been neglecting our relationship with our largest trading partner, the United States.
Pursuing new trade agreements is certainly worthy of support. However, we have to keep these agreements in context. I have raised questions in this House several times, that while the minister is travelling all over the world talking about trade here and trade there, the government is ignoring our most important trading partner.
The government is also ignoring another trading partner, and that is Korea. Hog producers and beef producers have been in my office over the last few weeks. They are very concerned about the South Korean market. We have an established market of over $1 billion of trade on beef and pork. It is a growing market. However, now that the United States has moved ahead and signed a trade agreement with South Korea, the tariffs will be coming down for the Americans. We are their most important competitor, and we will be left uncompetitive in that marketplace. We will in fact lose that market rapidly over time.
What seems to be the problem with the government in so many areas is that rather than being about results, it is very much about spin. It wants to be able to say that it has signed nine trade agreements, or has had 15 or 20 or 40 discussions, when in reality it is the results that matter. Again I emphasize that we are very concerned about the fact that the government is ignoring some of our largest trading partners while it talks and signs agreements with others around the world. The new agreement does not add up to the losses we are facing as a result of the government not emphasizing the agreements we already have in place.
While the Conservatives have proclaimed the promotion of trade, it has been under their watch that the mismanagement of the file in terms of trading relationships has resulted in trade deficits for the first time in over 30 years. Let me emphasize that. We hear the minister talk about all the great things the government is doing. Last year for the first time in 30 years, Canada had its first merchandise trade deficit. That tells me the results are far different from the spin we are getting from the Minister of International Trade.
With respect to the United States, we have seen the government surprised by increased United States protectionist actions. It was surprised by the initial buy American provisions in the 2008 United States stimulus package. It was again surprised in 2011 when the new buy American provisions were returned by the Obama administration. Those buy American provisions in fact will affect Canadian jobs and will hurt both the U.S. and Canadian economies.
The Conservative administration was also surprised by the announcement by the United States Federal Maritime Commission at the instigation of United States senators of an investigation into U.S.-bound container traffic being diverted to Canadian ports and whether to impose fees or tariffs as a result of this diverted trade. This would be another potential fee placed on Canada.
The government was also surprised when the United States government, in signing the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, withdrew the exemption Canada had of $5.50 per individual in terms of sea and air entry into the United States.
I was in Washington, D.C. over the last few days where I met with senators and congressmen about a number of issues between our two countries. They too seemed to be caught by surprise in terms of that clause in the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement that took away Canada's exemption. After my visit to the United States, I am now more concerned by the fact that we had a lot of allies in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives but the government failed on its watch to pay attention to that serious issue which puts another fee on Canada.
The importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship is in the value of trade, and that exceeds about $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion a day. The government is very much ignoring our most important trading partner.
I want to emphasize again in the House that while the government is pursuing Panama, Jordan, and others, it is ignoring our most important trading markets. I have to outline this point with the minister.
Will the minister get on the ball and get on a trading relationship with South Korea? We need a free trade agreement signed with South Korea, or we are going to be displaced as a result of being uncompetitive with the United States which has signed a trade agreement. I cannot emphasize that enough. That is worth $1 billion in trade.
In spite of the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP grew to 10.7% in 2008, one of the highest in the Americas. In 2010, Panama's GDP growth stood at 7.5%. Panama is Canada's largest export market in Central America.
Panama is an important market especially for folks in my province of Prince Edward Island. We export fish, shellfish, french fried potatoes and other agricultural products. It is very important to producers in Prince Edward Island. We need this agreement.
The bilateral trading relationship has grown 61% since 2009, reaching $213 million in bilateral trade in 2010.
As I said, the primary Canadian merchandise exports to Panama include machinery, vehicle electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses, frozen potato products and other agricultural products, and shellfish. Canadian service exports include financial services, engineering, information and communications technology. These are also important. We import precious stones from Panama and a number of fruits and nuts, fish and seafood products. The relationship is important.
I do have to point out what remains a concern to us within the Liberal Party. The tax haven issue with Panama has not been addressed. The President of France talked about that at the G20. The tax haven issues that a number of countries have around the world have to be addressed. In particular, the Canadian government has to work harder with Panama to address that issue.
The bottom line is that we support this trade agreement. We especially want to see the labour, environment and tax issues addressed in it though.