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House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was agreements.

Topics

Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Having heard the terms of the motions, is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motions?

Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Access to Information, Privacy and EthicsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

(Motions agreed to)

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to rise today to speak in relation to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

I would also like to mention that I did rise out of my chair slowly, as may have been seen on camera, because I ran 10 kilometres on Sunday to support a great charity in Barrie for the member of Parliament for Barrie, who did a great job and sold out. I would like to express my thanks to him and the town of Barrie.

I do want to talk about free trade and the belief I have in free trade around the world and the ability for Canada to open up its markets, because it is very important of course to the people I represent, to the businesses, the financial sectors, the farmers and agriculture producers.

I find it surprising that the NDP still takes the position of anti-free trade. We have seen bluntly what protectionism does to countries. In particular, we have seen iron curtains put up and brought down. They simply do not work. To be protectionist simply, in my mind, creates an atmosphere that brings about the surety that the NDP is not fit to govern because one cannot live in a house that is closed today. Certainly, if we close the borders of our country, we will all suffer the consequences for many years.

Therefore, I do want to put my support in this place firmly in the position behind free trade agreements. Even listening to the arguments, we hear they are quite hollow. Free trade will help the workers of Panama under the conditions that we provide them jobs and we provide a better quality of life as a result of their ability to trade with us.

This agreement actually would bring about additional market access for our agricultural and agrifood producers and exporters. That is very important to my constituents in northern Alberta, because I have many cattle producers, and there are many people who are in the agricultural and agrifood business in all parts of this country. Bluntly, Canada has a competitive advantage in the agribusiness. We can use that competitive advantage to ensure we continue to have the great quality of life that we do have in Canada.

As Canada's agricultural and agrifood sector becomes more modern, innovative and competitive, the sector is becoming a more significant part of Canada's economy. In fact, many people do not realize this but in 2010, the agriculture and agrifood industry directly accounted for one in eight jobs in Canada. This actually translated to employment for more than 2 million people. That is a lot of people who are employed through this sector.

In the same year, it accounted for about 8% of the GDP of the country. I would like to make mention that 8% of GDP is about the same as what my constituency in northern Alberta, through production of the oil sands, brings into this country, another 8%. Therefore, it is equivalent to about the same as the agricultural and agrifood business in the country as to the gross domestic product it produces for the country. Obviously, both are very important for Canada and for the continued great quality of life we enjoy.

Increasingly, over the last 15 years the agricultural and agrifood sector has become internationally focused. In 2011, exports valued at more than $41 billion were accounted for in this sector from Canada. This actually ranks Canada as the fifth largest exporter of agriculture and agrifood products in the world, which is a very important place to be. I am hoping with these new free trade agreements we can actually see that rise to first, if not to fourth or third, in the near future.

It is no surprise then, as a result of the great amount of the financial sector and the amount of jobs that are produced by the agricultural and agrifood sector, that our Conservative government continues to work tirelessly on ways to improve access to international markets. I know that my friend, the Minister of International Trade, is doing a great job there and I appreciate his doing that. I barely see him in the House anymore because he is always out somewhere in the world and is extremely busy and working hard for Canadians abroad. I especially appreciate the opportunity he has taken out of his own life to support Canada and Canada's trade market in the agricultural food and agrifood business.

We are achieving this great significant milestone through our commitment to pursue bilateral and regional trade agreements. These trade agreements are essential for continued prosperity for Canadians. I think most people know that.

During question period, the parliamentary secretary actually confirmed how many trade deals we have initiated as a Conservative government. I think it is probably more by three times than was done in the previous 13 years by the previous Liberal government, so we have seen a real focus on that by our government. I think it goes a long way to say how well we are doing as a country.

Certainly, we know the OECD has identified us as being a very strong economy, with the best banking sector and the best financial sector in the world. That is no surprise when we see agreements like the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

The Conservative government has taken a very firm position on this because we know that to succeed in a global economy, we have to have a strong export market.

We want to ensure that our Canadian agriculture and agrifood producers and exporters remain competitive with other preferential suppliers to Panama, because we are not competing against ourselves; we are competing against other countries. We need to make sure that we have a competitive advantage. We do have a competitive advantage. We have large tracts of land. We have a very good, experienced workforce in the agriculture-agrifood sector. We have the ability to innovate and create, and we have the best agricultural sector in the world, bar none.

We certainly can use these competitive advantages to become that number one exporter. For example, one of the things that has happened in Canada's exports is, believe it or not, frozen french fries. Now, frozen french fries may not seem like a lot to many people. I know some of our members have particular fetishes toward frozen french fries, as we can hear in the background. However, when we get well down into it, this industry would immediately benefit from this because there would be an elimination of the 20% tariffs on this product.

In 2011, Canada exported almost $12 million worth of frozen french fries to Panama. This is a $1 million increase over 2010 exports, at a time when things are supposed to be tough in the world. Now, that is a lot of potatoes. That is a lot of potato farmers who we support through these trade deals and through these free trade agreements. I think that is often forgotten by the NDP, that it is actually the farmers we are helping support, the farmers of P.E.I. or wherever they are growing potatoes across this great country, and the ability for those people who package those frozen french fries to be able to keep their jobs, as well, on the assembly line; so it is the manufacturers and the farmers.

Our pulse exporters would also benefit from an immediate tariff elimination with the implementation of this free trade agreement, because tariffs of up to 15% would be eliminated on its implementation. Fifteen per cent of nothing. I do not mean that 15% is nothing. I mean that 15% does nothing for anybody. Those tariffs, those barriers to trade, are not helping Canadian workers and are not helping Panamanian workers. They are simply doing nothing. That is why it would be so good to see.

In 2011, Canada exported more than $5 million worth of lentils to Panama. Now, that is a lot of lentils, as well. This is almost double the amount of our trade on this product in 2006.

There is a growing market for dried peas in Panama, from Canada. In 2011, Canada exported more than $1 million worth of dried peas. People forget about that, that it is the farmers, that it is the packers, that it is the manufacturing process, all the way from the farmer to the plate, that takes place in Canada. We want to see more manufacturing, more assembling of product, but we also want to see the farmers being able to grow their product and sell it overseas because that is what they are doing. That is what they have a competitive advantage on.

Canadian malt exporters would also benefit from the immediate elimination of Panamanian tariffs of up to 10%. Again, that is 10% for nothing, just a barrier to trade that does not accomplish anything, that does not give anybody a real job. That is what we are doing in this government: making sure that people have real jobs, that farmers have real jobs and that they have some ability to sell their products overseas.

In 2011, Canada exported more than $8 million worth of malt products to Panama. That is a significant amount of malt. This is a significant increase, as well, from the $3 million worth of malt exports in 2010.

So, we can see that the elimination of these tariffs in this free trade agreement would greatly enhance our ability to export products, agricultural products and agrifood products, to Panamanian society.

In fact, there would be some real benefits to different parts of the country, and I want to talk about that a bit.

In Quebec, for instance, key exports such as pork, industrial and construction machinery, pharmaceuticals and aerospace products would receive a real benefit. In fact, that is where this particular province and the farmers from this province would receive a real benefit. They would also receive a benefit for investment services for the engineering, construction and transportation sectors. That is just in Quebec,

I know I do not have a lot of time left, but Ontario and the western provinces would also receive real benefits.

The real benefits are that we eliminate barriers and trade deals that do not help our producers or our country. We enhance free trade, and it works.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, we know the member across does not believe in the Canadian capacity to refine and upgrade our own resources here at home, so his sellout arguments do not really surprise me.

He referred to providing jobs. Let me say that Panama City has just recently opened the regional hub for Caterpillar, and members will remember that Caterpillar recently fled Canada. Deloitte's Canadian manufacturing consultants say that “we are not going to get the jobs back without the involvement of policy-makers”, and Boston Consulting says that “the cost of operating in Canadian dollars is very high”.

While we would support a trade agreement that would show a net benefit for Canadians, we cannot support this one, and we do not understand why the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca continually sells out Canadian jobs and Canadian workers.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, that was so funny I forgot to laugh.

I represent more union members and workers per capita than anybody else in this place. I promise and assure the member that I am not going to stand against workers.

I can say that this member and his caucus are standing against machinery manufacturing jobs. In fact, we heard from the president of the Canadian association that it is selling more machines, and in the case of this one particular gentleman who builds forklifts, 40% of his forklifts are going to the oil sands.

We know that the NDP wants to shut down the oil sands. We know that the NDP leader wrote a preface to a book that said within 30 years he was going to make sure that the oil sands were shut down. What about those jobs? Is the member standing up for those jobs? I would say no.

We have clearly heard that Quebec, with this particular free trade agreement, would receive real benefits for pork and industrial and construction machinery. We know that they will be able to export industrial machinery from Quebec to Panama. Why would the member want to close down those export markets for Quebec manufacturers? I do not understand that.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from northern Alberta for his hard work on this trade file.

I have had the pleasure of being on the trade committee for about six and a half years. About four years ago, I travelled to Colombia and Panama with the trade committee and saw first-hand the importance of this agreement.

I would like to applaud my colleague for standing up for Albertans and Canadians and for creating jobs. The fact is that we are engaging and helping Canadians from coast to coast in training. I know that my colleague has athletic prowess and I congratulate him for completing the 10K, but he is also working hard in the sense that he could enlighten the House on the importance of engaging folks in Panama, rather than isolating them from the hope and opportunity of jobs that would be created through free trade versus looking for a utopian model that unfortunately is not out there in the NDP world.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's hard work on the trade file.

I believe that open doors and open dialogue create open minds and open hearts. I think that we can see from the world's example what takes place when minds are closed, borders are closed and hearts are closed: people suffer. That is why we need to open our doors and reach out to these developing economies. We need to make sure that they understand that we will be standing up for our workers and that we will be helping out their workers as well.

It is about free trade. It is about free market access and making sure that we have an open mind, an open heart and an open door.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments about reaching out to other jurisdictions and giving them a helping hand. I wonder if he would support my view that we should be bringing forward the best possible agreements.

The government talks about sidebar agreements on the environment and labour. I happen to have worked under the side agreement under NAFTA, and it was a very fulsome agreement. I wonder if the member has a view on whether or not it is advisable for the government to be downgrading these agreements.

If we are going to have a useful dialogue, surely we should have the independent secretariat and an independent commission between Panama and Canada, as we had with the U.S. and Mexico.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member asking about beef.

In fact, the BSE-related beef tariffs in Panama have actually been lifted. I can tell members that believe it not, the tariffs were 25% to 30% on Canadian beef and on all of Canada's high-quality beef cuts. Panama will also eliminate its 15% tariff on fresh or chilled offal with the implementation of the free trade agreement.

I will say, in relation to what the member did say, that I do not think there is any possibility of reaching perfection in anything. To suggest that we should hold out until we reach perfection, which I think is the NDP position, admirable as it is, is not reality.

We deal with real life here on this planet. We deal with real life in the Conservative caucus. We are going to continue to stand up for workers, the Canadian economy and families.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, here is a country with a history.

When we talk about these things, we often have the feeling we are discussing them with people who have little or no history. Panama has a very long history. Denial of human rights in Panama also has a very long history.

The first time in my life that I heard of Panama, it was for an unfortunate reason: our Prime Minister at the time was registering the ships owned by his company, Canada Steamship Lines, in Panama so as not to pay taxes in Canada. That is the kind of prime minister we had.

I do not remember exactly where I was working at the time, but I found it truly despicable that a prime minister would actually register his ships in Panama in order avoid taxes. I wondered what was happening in that country and why we did not have a reciprocal agreement for income tax. Then I delved into the question a little, and discovered it was a tax haven. Companies that did not want to pay their taxes or did not want governments to be looking into their business went there to register, and that enabled them to engage in multiple transactions all over the world, without being too bothered by financial regulations and laws.

The second time that we heard about Panama in recent years was because of Noriega. Initially, he was a CIA agent and he eventually became the country's leader by relying on narco-dollars, the drug trade, and the sale of arms to the FARC and other guerrilla movements throughout the world. He remained in Panama for a little over 10 years before he was ultimately toppled by the U.S. Army—during the presidency of George Bush—which set up puppet governments—more or less—until the arrival of Mr. Martinelli.

Why have I mentioned Mr. Martinelli? When a contract is signed, people assume that it is signed with another country, when in fact, it is an agreement between two individuals. When I sign a contract, I want to know who I am signing it with. So, I did a bit of research on Mr. Martinelli. At the precise moment that the Conservatives introduced the first bill on a free-trade agreement with Panama in this House, in Panama, Mr. Martinelli introduced and adopted without debate his Bill 30, framework legislation to promote foreign investment in Panama.

I am going to speak a little about the various sections of Bill 30 to demonstrate what sort of person Mr. Martinelli is, and to show that there is a similarity between the Conservatives and Mr. Martinelli, and that the Conservatives like the measures that he passed.

Bill 30 has been caricatured as the lobster act, or the prawn act. There are nine sections in this act that are quite problematic. Among them, there is the suspension of workers who support strikes within an affected institution or trade. That is one of the measures in Bill 30, introduced at the same time that the Conservatives wanted Canada to enter into a free trade agreement with Panama.

Bill 30 also provided that once a strike was initiated, the regional labour directorate would immediately give the order to law-enforcement authorities to guarantee and protect people and property. This signified, therefore, the abolition of the right to strike in Panama. I know that these are measures that the Conservatives favour hugely. Then, there was the immediate suspension of the contracts of workers who called a strike. There was also a ban on union dues deducted at source. That is another provision that seems tailor-made for the Conservative government.

When Mr. Martinelli introduced this bill, he flatly lied to Panamanians, saying that the International Labour Organization had proposed these measures. In fact, Panama has never respected the agreement it signed in 1998 with the International Labour Organization.

I listened to one of our colleagues across the way rattle off the list of rights that would be respected under this agreement.

Panama signed the accord, but it has never complied with the content. Let us put that out of our minds.

There were other sections on the environment in Law 30. State projects that the executive considers to be in the public interest are exempt from the major impact studies. As I read that, I cannot stop laughing, because it is the exact same thing as was served up to us this week. They are exempt from the impact studies.

Now let us talk about the open-pit mining in areas that are designated human ecological reserves. Law 30 was introduced at the same time as we wanted to negotiate free trade with Panama. There will be no more impact studies on environmental projects in Panama. That is something else that must please our Conservative friends a great deal.

As for human rights violations, the ultimate outrage in the law—which has really set the cat among the pigeons in Panama, as I will discuss later—is that immunity is being provided to the members of Panama's national police force. I will read section 27 of the law:

When a member of the national police force is the subject of a report or a complaint or when he is accused of or charged with committing an alleged offence while on duty or in the performance of his duties, for excessive and unjustified use of force, preventive arrest shall be neither ordered nor prescribed…

Basically, any police officer using excessive or unjustified force will not be arrested or suspended until the courts rule.

This is another measure endorsing the fact that the government is denying workers the right to strike and suspending the collection of union dues. If anyone protests these measures, the government sends in the police, and the police can do whatever they want. What a wonderful world.

Mr. Martinelli revealed the main purpose of his legislation in a conversation with the President of South Korea. Speaking about the new law, Mr. Martinelli said:

...[this legislation] will enable multinationals to become established in the country and to feel at home. With the facilities...in any of the country's tax-free zones, business people from around the world can come here to find the social and economic stability they want for their business.

In other words, he has workers under his thumb and the police in his back pocket and he wants foreigners to invest. His law went through at exactly the same time as this free trade agreement was introduced.

Of course, the law did not go through smoothly. There were strikes. A major strike movement began building. Thousands of workers across the country went on strike. Unfortunately, people died. The police were given the power to do whatever they wanted without worrying about the courts or human rights. People died; people were threatened and arrested. Terror still reigns.

Mr. Martinelli backed down from some parts of his law. Nevertheless, the basis of it, the purpose, was to enable foreign capital to get its hands on Panama.

One of the important aspects involving Canada is the presence of Canadian companies in Panama. In fact, at this time, there are significant disputes involving three Canadian mining companies and ancestral lands in part of Panama. Three big mining companies—Inmet Mining Corporation, Corriente Resources Inc. and Petaquilla Mining—are working on projects in Panama. The indigenous people who live on the lands where those companies are carrying out their projects are opposed to the projects and are trying to renegotiate the bases of the projects.

In April of this year, three men were killed in the Ngöbe-Buglé reserve. There were men killed, there were a dozen men injured and there were a hundred others arrested when the police were sent to put an end to the occupations of the lands where the Canadian mines are located.

If anyone would like to have more information about what is going on in Panama, about the position of our companies that are currently in Panama, about how rights are being flouted, in particular the rights of the indigenous people, ask me questions; I have a lot of information in my document.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, since I have been here in Parliament, it has been obvious that the NDP is not in favour of expanding our markets to other parts of the world.

We need to remind Canadians that Canada currently does export a lot of goods to Panama, such as machinery, precious stones, wheat, aerospace products, minerals, fuel and oil.

However, the part that is most troubling for me is that within this trade agreement, Canadian farmers will have increased access to the beef and pork markets in Panama. I am from a riding that has a large number of farmers, and a lot of agricultural products are produced and processed. I am just wondering if my NDP colleague and his party are not interested in supporting our farmers in Canada. What is their reason for being against increasing the opportunity for trade in our agricultural products?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, in spite of what my colleague thinks, Canada’s real interest has nothing to do with the marginal market for Canadian beef in Panama; it has to do with the gigantic market for the Canadian mining companies that are there.

For example, Corriente Resources Inc., a Canadian mining company, holds information sessions with the Ngöbe-Buglé people who live in that region. It has the people sign documents in order to receive training sessions and other benefits. In fact, what the people did not know was that they were signing papers saying they agreed to the open-pit mining project on their lands.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, I personally have spent a lot of time in Panama. Panama has been moving forward very fast since Noriega has been gone. It is a great opportunity for Canada to be doing trade, especially when the Panama Canal is there. We could be bringing stuff in, transshipment. That country looks for our products and there are a lot of products we could buy from it, especially exotic fruits and vegetables.

We do have concerns about what is happening in Panama. The National had a story on last night about what Panama is doing with the mining sites. However, if we are doing a proper job on the mining sites and in our resource extracting industries, would my hon. colleague not agree that we should have a good trade deal with Panama if we are doing things in the right way?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster introduced a series of amendments that would in fact have made it possible, if a free trade agreement were signed, to protect a country that has these problems from having foreign investors, including Canadian investors, exert too much control over the country’s mining resources.

Unfortunately, all of the amendments were voted down. Because of that, the bill is really unacceptable. It will not mean that the people of Panama come out ahead and it will not restore the Canadian economy to its former glory. On the contrary, it will damage us at the international level, at the...

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for a very brief final question.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague. I am pleased that he raised the issue of indigenous rights in Panama.

We know that Panama has signed more than 27 international human rights documents, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Recently, the UN Human Rights Committee underscored the absence of a process for consulting with indigenous people in Panama.

I wonder whether the hon. member has anything to add to that. Indeed, it is a matter of concern now that the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples has come into force internationally.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle NDP Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question.

There is cause for concern over the fate of indigenous peoples there and over their claims, which are being trampled.

Inmet Mining Corporation is in the process of developing a project in an area of biodiversity without any consultation or oversight. It is left free to do what it wants on that land. The only opposition comes from the people who have ancestral rights to the land.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to talk about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. I will spend a few minutes talking about how this agreement fits into our government's broader economic plan.

The one thing we always need to keep in context is that free trade agreements, while they are important, fit into a much larger plan of what our government is trying to accomplish. We have been working on a number of free trade deals, which I will touch on in a bit, but I also want to comment on the fact that we continue to lower corporate taxes to one of the lowest levels in any of the G7 or G8 countries. That is important as we look at trying to attract other investments and corporations for jobs.

There are other things we are doing. We are continuing to work on deals with the U.S. to try to get goods and services flowing quicker at the borders. A historic deal was announced just this week. The Prime Minister was able to make a deal in Windsor, which is hugely important in trying to get our goods and services across to the U.S., our largest trading partner. We continue to invest in research and development. We realize that new jobs will come as we are able to commercialize technology. That is why we continue to spend money on research and development and ensure we are getting the best bang for the buck.

We have been trying to reduce red tape. The Red Tape Reduction Commission talked to business owners and business people across the country to try to figure out how to reduce irritants so that Canada could become a friendly place to do business. It already does a great job. I think one of the differences between us and some of the other parties in the House is that we realize that we need to continue to find ways to sell our goods and services around the world. Sixty per cent of our GDP depends strictly on trade. With a population between 30 million and 35 million people, there is no way that we can consume all of our goods. Therefore, we need to continue to expand those markets. Tat is why I appreciate the opportunity to talk a bit more about this Panama free trade deal.

We understand the importance of benefits of trade. As I mentioned before, we are an export-driven economy and we need open borders. With one in five Canadian jobs dependent on international trade, bilateral and regional trade agreements are essential to bringing continued prosperity to Canadians. That is why deepening Canada's trading relationships is rapidly growing, and markets around the world, such as Panama, are important parts of this government's pro-trade plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

With a GDP of over $30 billion and a GDP per capita of over $10,000, Panama is among the fastest growing and best managed countries in Latin America. In fact, the Latin Business Chronicle has predicted that Panama will be the fastest growing economy in Latin America in the five year period from 2010 to 2014, matching Brazil's rate of growth of 10%.

Like most countries in the region, however, Panama is feeling the impact of the global financial crisis, which threatens to undermine the social gains made in the past few years. That said, the expansion project of the Panama Canal, combined with the conclusion of a free trade agreement with the United States, is expected to boost and extend economic expansion for some time.

As a former member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I had the pleasure of visiting Panama in 2008 with my committee colleagues. I want to mention, since Lee Richardson, who was the chair of the committee at the time, is no longer in the House, that it was a pleasure travelling with Lee to Panama and he did a great job leading the delegation. He is certainly a colleague that we will miss in the House. I want to wish him all the best as he starts his work in Alberta.

While in Panama, we had a chance to visit the Panama Canal. One really cannot appreciate the sheer scale of this 97-year-old architectural marvel until one gets to witness it in person. The Panama Canal is an 82 kilometre ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific via the Caribbean Sea. It is one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. The Panama Canal is a shortcut that allows for shorter, faster and safer access to the North American west coast, allowing those places, including Canada, to become more integrated with the world economy.

The Panama Canal has an annual traffic of over 14,000 trips, carrying about 300 million tonnes of goods annually, raising close to $2 billion in revenue for the Panamanian government. The Panama Canal expansion project, which is currently under way, will double the capacity of the Panama Canal, allowing more and larger ships to transit.

New components include the construction of the two lock complexes, the excavation of new access channels to the new locks and the widening and deepening of the navigation channels. The project is expected to be completed in 2014. Interestingly, this expansion was approved in 2007 by Panama's cabinet and national assembly with a national referendum in which 77% of Panamanians voted to support this project.

The Panama Canal Authority estimated the cost to construct the third set of locks at approximately $5.25 billion. This estimate includes design, administrative, construction and testing. As with most projects of this scale, there are opponents who contend that the project is based on uncertain projections about maritime trade and the world economy and that the project will cost more than the $5.25 billion price tag.

Again, according to the Panama Canal Authority, the third set of locks is financially profitable and will produce a 12% internal rate of return, which will help to continue to finance the project and will be a cash flow for the country as it moves forward.

Recent challenges in concluding the World Trade Organization Doha round regional and bilateral trade agreements have taken on increased significance. Our government recognizes that there are a growing number of countries where Canadian companies are at a competitive disadvantage because their competitors have preferential market access under some form of preferential trade agreement.

Canada cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while other countries vigorously pursue trade deals to secure better market access for their products and services. That is why our government is in the midst of the most ambitious pursuit of new and expanded trade and investments agreements in Canadian history. The Canada–Panama free trade agreement is yet another step this government is taking to help Canadians compete and succeed in a global economy. It supports the global commerce strategy which will ensure that Canada maintains its current economic strength and prosperity in an increasingly complex and competitive global economy.

With 60% of our GDP dependent on trade, it is clear that jobs in communities across Canada depend on the business we do with other countries. This government's pro-trade plan is an essential contributor to Canada's prosperity, productivity and growth.

By improving access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses, we are supporting domestic economic growth and creating new opportunities for Canadian workers. Canada's exporters, investors and service providers are calling for these opportunities. Business owners and entrepreneurs want access to global markets. This government is committed to expanding the various opportunities created by free trade agreements. Our track record speaks for itself.

Since 2006, Canada has concluded new free trade deals with nine countries: Colombia, Jordan and Peru; the European Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland; and, most recently, with Honduras and, of course, Panama We are negotiating many more, including with the European Union.

A deal with the European Union would represent the most significant Canadian trade initiative since the North American Free Trade Agreement and could potentially boost our bilateral trade with this important partner by 20%. It could also provide $12 billion annually to boost the Canadian economy, which is equivalent to a $1,000 increase to the average Canadian family income or almost 80,000 new jobs.

Canadian companies recognize the many benefits to workers and businesses that a Canada–E.U. trade deal would bring.

We are also intensifying our focus on Asia. During the Prime Minister's visit to China in February 2012, leaders announced that Canada and China would proceed to exploratory discussions on deepening trade and economic relations on the completion of the bilateral economic study. Also, just this past March, the Prime Minister announced and launched the negotiations toward a free trade agreement with Japan and the start of exploratory discussions with Thailand. This week, the possible participation in the trans-Pacific partnership negotiations was also announced.

This free trade agreement would also better enable Canadian companies to participate in large projects.

For all those reasons, the proposed Canada–Panama agreement is a good deal. The agreement will support more Canadian jobs by enhancing our ability to export more goods and services to this market. This is why the implementation of a free trade agreement is a priority for this government.

I ask all hon. members to support Bill C-24, the legislation to implement the Canada–Panama free trade agreement and the parallel labour co-operation and environment agreements.

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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the presentation made by my friend, who also chairs the foreign affairs committee. I always appreciate his interventions.

Over and above the concerns that we have on this side regarding labour rights, environmental issues and indigenous issues and rights in Panama, Panama has refused to sign the tax information exchange agreement. This is always very troubling for us because of the money laundering that happens in Panama. That has been confirmed by the U.S. justice department and others.

What does my hon. friend have to say about that?

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5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague is a new member on the foreign affairs committee, and we appreciate his contributions.

As we continue to look at deals, one thing we need to consider is trying to find other markets for our goods and services. Therefore, we will continue to work on foreign investment protection agreements, tax treaties, all those things as we move forward. We believe we need to find more areas for our country to serve and sell our goods. This is what we will continue to do.

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5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned before in the House, I have had a lot of experience in Panama. I really think it is great that we are doing business with it. There is so much opportunity. However, there is still a concern, and we saw it last night on TV, about the environmental degradation that can happen. It is such an important area, and not only for trade; Panama is a flight path for many of our birds, and the rain forest is protected.

My question is for the chair of the foreign affairs committee. When we did the Colombian deal, there was a collateral agreement with environmental clauses in it. Are there any environmental clauses or collateral agreements that could protect the Panamanian lands from degradation from mining operations?

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5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Madam Speaker, as we have with all agreements, we have side agreements for labour co-operation and agreements for the environment. As we move forward with these agreements, we will continually look at these things and ensure they are included in our agreements.