Mr. Speaker, I am no longer a member of international trade committee, but I enjoyed my time there immensely. Over a year ago, prior to the previous election, we were working on this same agreement then. Checking with one of the people in the lobby, we worked out that there were over 50 hours of debate on this minor treaty alone. To those who are wondering about whether the House sufficiently debates issues, the answer most clearly is yes. I do not blame the people of Panama or the government for being a bit frustrated with Canada that we have yet to implement this treaty.
I am pleased to rise today to talk about Bill C-24 and the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. This agreement would provide benefits to Canadians in numerous sectors, and hopefully I will have time to get through most of them. In particular, I wish to speak about the services sector.
As many hon. members I am sure are aware, the Panamanian economy is built on the service sector. Panama is not known as a manufacturing hub. It is perhaps best known for its canal and for the strategic position it provides to the world in the transportation of goods.
Panama offers opportunities for Canadian service providers in a broad range of commercial services, financial services and temporary entry for business persons. This free trade agreement would expand opportunities in these key areas and others.
In 2009, which according to my notes is the latest possible data, Canadian commercial services exports to Panama amounted to $48 million. During the negotiations with Panama, our government's approach was to develop substantive provisions to govern cross-border trade in services as well as to provide a level of market access similar to that afforded under NAFTA. Canada sought similar treatment as afforded to the U.S. under its free trade agreement with Panama. This is important because we are going to be competing with American businesses as we try to sell to Panama.
When it comes to free trade, a lot of the benefits are derived from buying and importing from countries so that we acquire lower-cost goods, but we are also interested in selling to Panama and obtaining the same treatment so that we are on level ground with the United States, one of our major competitors. This is yet another example of how our government is committed to achieving a level playing field for Canadian businesses around the world.
Free trade is a cornerstone of our economic success as a nation. Our ambitious pro-trade plan is helping to open doors for our businesses around the world, including in Panama.
The free trade agreement contains strong provisions to provide access on a competitive basis. The agreement provides market access beyond Panama's obligations under the WTO and GATT, particularly in areas of Canadian expertise and export interests, which include mining and energy-related services, professional services, which involve engineering and architectural services, environmental services, distribution and information technology.
The services and services-related provisions of the agreement would benefit Canadian exporters, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises, through the implementation of principles and conditions of regulatory stability as well as fair and equitable treatment. Regulatory stability is important not just as has been demonstrated in our current budget, but in our agreements around the world.
Canadian services exporters would also benefit from provisions designed to increase transparency of regulations, including increased transparency on access for temporary entry for a broad range of service providers.
The agreement also provides a framework for the negotiation of mutual recognition agreements respecting professional licensing and qualification requirements and procedures.
Consistent with past practice, Canada has taken reservations in this free trade agreement to maintain full policy flexibility in areas of domestic sensitivity, including social services, health and public education. There is no concern or fear-mongering necessary in those areas.
Another area of service that is of particular interest in dealing with Panama is financial services. In this area the agreement establishes NAFTA equivalent access for all financial services in respect of right of establishment, full national and most favoured nation treatment, certain cross-border commitments and various other carve-outs.
In terms of provincial government measures, the openness of the provincial financial sector framework was bound at existing levels. As members probably know, Canadian firms are among the top financial providers in the world, and we are proud of their success.
This free trade agreement would enable them to succeed in the dynamic and growing Panamanian market. In terms of sector-specific market access commitments, the levels of access Panama offered to Canada achieved parity with what was offered to the U.S. through the trade promotion agreement.
The portfolio management commitment, however, would only take effect at the time the U.S. trade promotion agreement comes into force. Importantly, Canada has achieved the same treatment as the U.S. in respect of ownership of insurance brokerages, pension fund management and securities dealers' requirements.
Canadian financial institutions expressed significant interest in expanding relations with Panama through a free trade agreement. If members have ever been to Latin America, they will have seen that Scotiabank very much plants the Canadian flag all over the continent of South America and Latin America. Scotiabank, for example, currently operates 12 branches in Panama City that offer a wide variety of banking services. These include corporate and commercial lending facilities, project and trade financing, cash management services and personal retail banking services.
These institutions supported a free trade agreement to better position Canadian business vis-à-vis competitors in this market, particularly those that already benefit from preferential trading agreements with Panama, and to institutionalize investments and dispute settlement protection for existing investments.
I will wrap up with just a few brief words about the temporary entry for business purposes, again, something that helps to expand the delivery of services to Panama and increases our service sector in Canada with its export.
The service provisions of this trade agreement address the important question of temporary entry for business people. The temporary entry chapter takes important steps to address barriers that business persons might face at the border, such as limits on the categories or numbers of workers who can enter the country to work or provide services.
Temporary entry provisions are important because they facilitate entry for covered business persons by eliminating the need to obtain a work permit for business visitors and by eliminating the need to obtain a labour market test and/or economic test for other categories. They also would exempt certain occupations from numerical restrictions, such as domestic/foreign proportionality requirements and quotas with respect to the hiring of foreign nationals at a single enterprise.
This free trade agreement would ensure the secure, predictable and equitable treatment of service providers from both Panama and Canada. It would give Canadian companies enhanced access to the Panamanian market, which offers numerous opportunities including the ongoing multi-billion dollar expansion of the Panama Canal. This is a free trade agreement that would benefit service providers and all Canadians.
Let me also add that one of the things we must always recognize with all free trade agreements is that all parties can benefit. Trade is not a zero-sum game; it is something that expands the possibilities for both consumers and exporters on both sides of the equation. This has been recognized by economists for hundreds of years. In fact there are many people who will look at trade as one of the best ways to alleviate poverty in countries that have not achieved the economic success of Canada, including in areas of income inequality, an area about which I am sure opposition members will be most interested in asking questions.
I encourage all hon. members to vote for this agreement, an agreement that would bring Canada and Panama closer together and increase the wealth of all Canadians.