Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.
However, before I do that I will take a moment to share with the House my meeting yesterday evening with the participants in the Forum for Young Canadians. I met with a number of young people from across this country and I can tell this House that our country has a bright future. These young people were very much tuned into the issues that we are discussing in this House and issues that matter to Canadians. We talked about the budget, the economy, health care, crime prevention and many more subjects. These young people were very well-informed about the issues that we discuss in this House.
I want to acknowledge those young people who I met last night. I met with Liane Hewith, a grade 12 student from Vancouver Quadra; Bronwyn Vaisey, a grade 9 student from Port Moody Gleneagle Secondary School; and Faythe Lou, a grade 11 student from Kwantlen Park Senior Secondary from my riding of Surrey North.
Indeed, Canada does have a bright future.
Today, because of the meeting last night, I am more committed as a parliamentarian to work harder to create opportunities for young people, such as the ones I met last night.
I will now move on to speak to the free trade agreement and talk about some of the basic principles of this trade deal, in other words, what should be a framework for Canada when we start these trade negotiations with other countries.
First, we should pursue a multilateral approach based on a fair and sustainable trade model. In fact, bilateral trade deals amount to protectionist trade deals since they give preferential treatment to a few partners and exclude others. This puts countries with smaller economies in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis larger partners. A multilateral fair trade deal model avoids these issues, while protecting human rights and the environment.
The Canadian government needs to have a vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy. Canada's trade policy should be based on principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade that builds trading partnerships with other countries that support principles of social justice and human rights, while also expanding business opportunities.
In free trade agreements involving countries, such as Panama, we have the opportunity to better the human rights situation within that country. When will the Conservatives start putting the concerns of everyday people before those of big businesses? Fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought, of trade negotiations.
The NDP on this side of the House strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country, one that includes, within an overall fair trade strategy, the following points: first, providing a comprehensive, common-sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates that the trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industries. The government does not sign any trade agreements that would lead to net job losses for Canadian families.
Second, ensuring that the trade agreements Canada negotiates support Canada's sovereignty and freedom to chart its own policy, support our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage and support the principles of a multilateral fair trade system.
The third point is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.
The fourth point is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.
The fifth point is that any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation be subject to a binding vote on whether to accept the terms of the agreement. The current system, which consists of tabling FTAs in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification is neither mandatory nor does it bind the government to a decision of the House.
The points that I have just highlighted should be the guiding principles for negotiations for any free trade agreements.
In this agreement, I did not see the Conservative government use any of those principles. Rather, it appears to be once again resorting to making up facts to suit its interests rather than looking out for the interests of Canadians.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement is another marginally improved copy of the George Bush style approach to trade. It still puts businesses and big corporations ahead of everyday working-class people, it has no effective enforcement of human rights and it pays lip service to environmental protection without any real tough measures or dispute resolution mechanisms.
It is another one of those NAFTA copycat agreements that were initially negotiated and designated for trade between highly industrialized countries. However, Panama is not a highly industrialized country. This trade deal would not help Panama grow substantially nor would it increase the standard of living for its citizens. Instead, it would increase the role and incentive for exploitation by multinational corporations and inequality at a far greater pace and scale than in the case of NAFTA.
Another factor is that Panama is not a major trading partner of Canada. Two-way merchandise trade between the two countries reached only $149 million in 2008, which is less than 1%.
According to the United States department of justice and other entities, Panama is a major financial conduit for Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers' money laundering activities. That is a major concern that has been raised by the opposition in the House and in committee. The issue of tax havens also needs to be considered when we enter into these sorts of agreements. The government needs to consider more than the dollar value of the contract that it is entering into.
This is yet another trade deal negotiated in record time, without any consultation with trade unions, environmental groups, civil society or any citizen of the country. A fair and sustainable deal would not just address the needs of business but also the needs of working families and the environment.
The trade agreement does not provide investors and labour with a level playing field. While, under chapter 11, investors have the right to seek binding arbitration that they can pursue independently, a trade union in Panama does not get to pursue a case to arbitration. It can file a complaint that would lead to an investigation or report but it is up to the government to seek remedies and damages.
Empirical evidence strongly suggests that the minister of the day will not pursue the matter. The trade agreement includes enforceable protections of patents, trademarks and copyrights but no meaningful protection of workers and no meaningful protection of the environment.
Rather than imposing a one size fits all model, convenient to the U.S. finance system, and helping transnational corporations and repressive governments play off workers in different countries, we must recognize that different countries choose different development strategies and must be allowed to pursue fair and sustainable trade.
I want to urge my colleagues in the Conservative government to put the interests of Canadian families first before the interests of big corporations and their friends when it comes to signing free trade agreements around the world.