This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I heard the member say that he will be supporting this agreement. Obviously there has been great consideration given as to how important this agreement is to Canada. I would like my colleague to explain to the House why he feels it is good to support this agreement. I am really glad to hear that he is going to. Perhaps he could give the rest of us some insight as to why he feels this measure is worthy of being supported.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party is and always has been supportive of free trade and of anything that serves to break down barriers between countries, as long as concerns with respect to environmental matters, taxation and human rights are addressed.

It is important to break down barriers to encourage business between countries. It is a help to our exporters and importers to remove tariff barriers or other potential impediments to trade. It is all about providing greater opportunity to Canadian exporters and importers, as is the nature of any free trade agreement. The key is balance, and that is what I attempted to address in my remarks.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in the member's opening comments he mentioned there was time allocation on this bill. Once again we have a bill with some important repercussions, yet debate is going to be finished in a mere few hours on this particular section of the legislation.

Could the member comment specifically on the time allocation? Members opposite have said this bill has been back a number of times. However, clearly there are still some gaps in it, and the member identified some of that. I wonder what he feels about continuing to shut down the process so that parliamentarians do not have the opportunity to fully engage in debate, call appropriate witnesses and so on.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. It almost seems as though it is a reflex in this Parliament to introduce legislation and then limit debate. It somehow has become automatic, and that is most unfortunate.

In the course of my remarks I indicated my concern over the lack of any solid agreement with respect to the exchange of tax information. That aspect could and should be addressed before this bill goes forward. Tactics such as time allocation prevent that from happening. It is unfortunate, but it seems to be ingrained in the government and in this Parliament.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member from the Liberal Party talked about the problems that free trade with some countries might pose.

I would like to know if he agrees with us. The Conservatives are giving us the impression that they are putting the blinders on and closing their eyes as soon as we talk about free trade. That way, they cannot see the possibility of tax evasion and violations of human and workers' rights.

Does the hon. member agree with us that we have to make sure not to sign free trade agreements at any cost, and that we have to look at what is happening in foreign countries?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I do not fully agree with the hon. member.

It is very important to protect human rights and workers' rights, but it is also important to have a good trade environment. Both are important. We have to take both these interests into consideration.

This is all about balance. All too often my colleague's party, the NDP, errs on the side opposite commerce, and it would be very bad for the country if it were the will of Parliament to constantly err away from the side of economics. There does have to be balance, and I do appreciate that.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise in the House to talk about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

The House has spent considerable time debating the key elements of this trade agreement. We are aware that Panama is already a significant trade partner for Canada, with two-way trade totalling over $235 million in 2011. Panama is an established market for Canadian exports and holds significant potential for Canadian businesses.

We have also heard about the tremendous opportunities that exist in Panama with respect to government procurement. In addition to the ongoing USD $5.3 billion Panama Canal expansion project, the Government of Panama has numerous infrastructure projects either under consideration or already in progress to build or improve ports, roads, hospitals, social housing projects, bridges and airports. These projects are part of the Panamanian government's USD $13.6 billion strategic investment plan for 2010-2014. A country like Canada, with so much expertise, can take advantage of these significant opportunities in Panama.

Panama is also a strategic destination for Canadian investment, with the stock of Canadian investment in Panama reaching over $121 million in 2010.

However, looking beyond this investment, government procurement and market access for goods, this agreement is a comprehensive free trade agreement with obligations that extend well beyond these subjects to include other areas of importance to Canadian businesses.

The free trade agreement provides comprehensive obligations in areas such as financial services, temporary entry of business persons, electronic commerce and telecommunications, and competition, monopolies and state enterprises.

Canadian banking is consistently recognized as among the best in the world. In fact, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's banking system as the soundest in the world for four years in a row. This is an area where Canada is truly excelling.

The Canadian financial services sector is a leader in providing high-quality and reliable financial services. Across the Americas, Canadian banks are helping foster economic growth through access to credit and other financial services. In Panama specifically, Canadian financial institutions such as Scotiabank have an active presence and offer a wide variety of banking services. This agreement will help those Canadian financial institutions take advantage of opportunities in Panama.

On financial services, this agreement provides market access parity with what Panama offered to the U.S. through the trade promotion agreement and contains a robust prudential carve-out. This agreement includes comprehensive obligations for the financial services sector, including banking, insurance and securities.

These market access commitments are complemented by key obligations that ensure non-discrimination, provide a right of establishment for financial institutions, and promote regulatory transparency in the financial sector. These are key elements that the Canadian financial services sector is seeking in order to ensure that it is able to compete in an increasingly competitive global market. This government is responding to this demand.

Another important area included in this trade agreement to ensure that businesses are able to fully maximize the opportunities in Panama is temporary entry for business persons. This is an important issue for Canadian businesses to ensure that their employees are able to work in Panama and is a natural complement to market access for goods, services and investment.

In recognition of a significant number of Canadian companies operating in the region, the agreement removes unnecessary barriers impairing the ability of companies to bring in the skilled workers they need. These would include impediments such as the requirement for labour certification, tests, quotas, proportionality requirements or any other prior approval procedure.

The agreement extends to an extensive list of professions, including various technicians and provisions for spousal employment.

The strength of this free trade agreement does not stop there. It also extends into the areas of electronic commerce and telecommunication. Electronic commerce is an important addition to previous free trade agreements in light of the importance of ensuring that no digital economy issues, such as the protection of personal information, consumer protection and paperless trade, are overlooked. These are issues that are increasingly important for businesses in the 21st century and Canada and Panama have recognized this fact.

In the free trade agreement with Canada, Panama has agreed to a permanent moratorium on customs duties for products delivered electronically. This includes items such as electronic software, music purchased online and digital books. This moratorium is important, not only for businesses but for consumers as well.

In addition to electronic commerce, telecommunications provisions were also included to support the competitive development of the telecommunications sector. Through this free trade agreement, Canadian telecommunication service providers will be able to better compete with their American counterparts in the Panamanian market.

Clearly there are many benefits to this free trade agreement with Panama that go beyond trade in goods and investment.

The final area that I will touch on is the obligation in the free trade agreement related to competition, monopolies and state enterprises. This agreement meets Canada's objective of ensuring that anti-competitive business practices and the actions of monopolies or state enterprises do not undermine the benefits of trade and investment.

Canada and Panama will co-operate on issues relating to competition policy through their respective authorities. The obligations ensure that Canadian companies doing business in Panama are treated fairly. There are many other areas of agreement that will offer real commercial benefits to Canadian companies.

Overall, this is a high quality and comprehensive trade agreement. It will allow Canadian businesses to compete and excel in the Panamanian market. This is a market where many key exporters are seeing enormous potential.

According to a recent report published by the Global Centre for Aviation, Panama has the fastest growing economy in all of Latin America and is expected to have the fastest growing economy in Latin America for the next five years. Panama's real gross domestic product growth for 2011 is estimated at 10.6%. That is a faster growth than many other rapidly emerging economies and clearly illustrates that the commercial potential in Panama is very significant.

It is important that Canadian firms establish an early presence in this emerging market and build solid relationships that will provide them with a competitive edge.

Panama holds a unique and influential position in the global trading system, thanks to the Panama Canal. Panama represents an entry point to the broader region, thereby enabling access to neighbouring markets. This growth, driven by the expansion of the Panama Canal and other major infrastructure projects, represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses. This country's sound macroeconomic policy and improved security have resulted in favourable economic conditions and stronger demand for imported products. This represents new opportunities for Canadian exporters.

This free trade agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across Canada and its passage through this House will ensure that Canadian businesses are able to take advantage of opportunities in this important market.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member on her speech.

We know that a free trade agreement between Panama and Canada was signed on May 14, 2010. In that agreement, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of International Trade—the same two we have today—stressed that Canada and Panama would respect the fundamental labour rules and standards set out by the International Labour Organization.

Could the hon. member tell us if compliance with those standards will be required in the new agreement?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member opposite that our government will only be signing agreements that are in the best interests of Canadians. I am quite certain that she will find her question falls into that rank.

Global trade is vital to our economic prosperity. A country like Canada, with so much expertise, can now take advantage of these significant opportunities in Panama. This will help ensure Canada's growth, prosperity and strength.

I ask members to share in our vision and support this agreement.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague opposite for her speech.

I would like to ask about the lack of an agreement on exchanging tax information in this free trade accord. Usually, the answer we get is that Panama has agreed to sign a double taxation convention with Canada. But that type of convention only deals with legitimate income. However, we know that a lot of income in Panama is obtained illegally. Exchanging information through a tax information exchange agreement makes it possible to track all types of income, including illegal ones.

Why did Canada not want to put more pressure on Panama so that we would have an agreement of that kind, given that the United States signed such an agreement with Panama in 2010?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, I guarantee and assure the member that our government will be looking for factors and concerns like this and will only sign the agreement once it is sure the best interests of all Canadians have been taken care of.

This free trade agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across our country. Its passage through the House will ensure that Canadian businesses are able to take advantage of many opportunities in this important market. This will ensure Canada's growth, strength and prosperity. It is part of our global trade and part of our economic prosperity. Canadians elected us to do what is best for them.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member would be so kind as to expand on the importance of free trade agreements and the importance of growing Canada's economy, along with world economies, with free trade agreements. Our government has put a lot of new free trade agreements together which has helped to keep our economy in good stead.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tilly O'Neill-Gordon Conservative Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is well-known that Canada works to produce a trade industry across our country. This agreement will not only help one province but all the provinces will benefit from it.

It is important that Canadian firms establish an early presence in this emerging market and build a solid relationship that will provide them with a competitive edge.

Trade has always been a powerful engine for Canada's economy and so it is with this Panama trade agreement as well.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-24,, an act to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. It will be of no surprise to those in this House that I will be speaking against this agreement because of my strong concerns about the impact of free trade agreements that lack adequate environmental, labour and human rights safeguards.

While this package does include side agreements on labour co-operation and environment, both of these are extremely weak. The Conservatives and the Liberals joined together to defeat amendments proposed by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster which would have strengthened those agreements by providing both dispute resolution mechanisms and enforcement mechanisms. Without those safeguards, I cannot support this free trade agreement.

In debate today, some members on the other side of the House have asked the New Democrats, as the official opposition, why, if we supported the free trade agreement with Jordan, we were not supporting the agreement with Panama. Part of that answer lies in the differences in the agreements that I just mentioned. The side agreements in the Jordan free trade agreement were far stronger, had enforcement mechanisms and had dispute resolution mechanisms included in them. There is a difference in the agreements themselves.

The other part of that is the feeling I have that we ought to choose our partners very carefully when entering into closer economic associations. There are large differences between Jordan and Panama. For instance, Jordan is not a tax haven while Panama continues to refuse to implement a tax information exchange agreement with Canada. That lack of transparency means that Panama remains a major centre for money laundering, especially from the drug trade.

When I hear members on the other side talk about the provisions in this agreement for closer relations in financial institutions, this raises a big red flag for me about why we would want closer relations with a country that lacks that transparency and is a major transfer point and money laundering point for the drug trade in the Americas.

Again, on the question of why Jordan and not Panama, one only needs to look at the human rights and labour standards of these two countries. Here again, Jordan has made great progress and Panama has not. Jordan has made progress in raising labour standards and enforcing those standards, including several recent raises to the minimum wage and activities to try to enforce basic safety in the workplace conditions.

Panama has made no such progress. In fact, in Panama, the existence of sweat shops and other exploitive labour practices remain a real problem. Labour organizers working on these issues also come under very severe pressure, both from the government authorities and under threats from unidentified forces who we can only imagine are perhaps associated with those other illegal activities in Panama.

Not only do labour organizations face human rights threats in Panama, so do journalists attempting to cover labour and justice issues in Panama. Professional organizations of journalists have reported that over half the working journalists in Panama now face or have faced criminal defamation proceedings brought against them by the governments or businesses. These defamation suits carry penalties of up to one year in prison and very hefty fines.

This places an extreme chill on journalism and the freedom of expression in Panama, a problem that does not exist in Jordan. This has become so extreme that, in 2011, two Spanish nationals who had permanent resident status in Panama, Francisco Gómez Nadal and Maria Pilar Chato Carral were detained while covering a demonstration by the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous people in Panama City. They were detained for 48 hours before being permanently expelled from Panama. This, again, placed a very severe chill on the activities of all journalists operating in Panama, because Mr. Francisco Gómez Nadal and Ms. Chato Carral were extremely prominent journalists, working both for the daily newspapers in Panama City and also filing stories for newspapers in Spain.

We on this side have been very consistent in calling for trade agreements that have labour standards, human rights standards and sustainability built into those agreements. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about sustainability that is both economic and social, as well as environmental.

In Panama in the past few years, there have been very severe conflicts over development, in particular between mining companies and hydroelectric projects and local communities, and especially indigenous peoples in Panama. Indeed, this was the subject of a CBC documentary this week which attracted the attention of international human rights organizations.

According to Amnesty International, one protestor died and more than 40 were wounded during clashes at a blockade of the Pan-American Highway by the Ngäbe Buglé indigenous people who I mentioned earlier. They are asserting their rights to be consulted and to give informed consent before any development project on their lands proceeds in the province of Chiriqui. Similar protests by local community organizations occurred earlier this year over the reopening of the Cerro Cama open pit gold and copper mine by a Canadian mining company.

These conflicts over development also involve a lack of enforcement in environmental standards. At the Santa Rosa mine, which operated throughout the 1990s and was operated by a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company, Greenstone Resources, the mine finally closed in 1999, leaving three large tailing ponds, which are now very strongly suspected of having contaminated local water supplies. Local protests have broken out again very recently from the local community as this mine is now being reactivated without there ever being any attempt by the government to address these environmental concerns.

When members on the other side say that we are opposed to trade, they get it wrong. What we are opposed to is entering into these agreements which will provide advantages to multinational corporations, some of them Canadian, to impose working conditions that are dangerous, to develop projects that have severe environmental consequences and to undertake development in a country where freedom of expression comes under very severe threat.

Therefore, when we talk about trade on this side, we prefer to see multilateral agreements that have some basic principles inserted within them. However, if not, and obviously the government will not pursue the multilateral agreements, then we would like to see the same kinds of principles in these bilateral agreements, the principles I have just talked about: environmental sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability.

Of course, in a country like Panama with a large indigenous population and a large poor population, this means working with poor communities and working with indigenous communities for development that would help them build their communities and build their lives in a sustainable manner. We see nothing of the kind going on in Panama at this time.

We also want to see agreements that have very strong benefits to both parties. Therefore, we have called upon the government, before implementing free trade agreements, to have some kind of independent assessment of what the effects of the trade will be. We have not seen anything of this kind coming down the pipe from the government.

When we talk about competition on the international stage, we on this side support free trade based on efficiency and innovation. If a company can be more efficient than another company, and Canadian companies are often very good at this, then it should have access to markets and it should succeed. If a company is more innovative than other companies, it comes up with new ideas that would help advance the quality of products or develop new products that would fill a niche in the market, then it ought to be able to succeed in that trade.

What we do not want to see is companies that succeed in international trade by offloading their environmental costs on to future generations. What we do not want to see is companies that succeed in international trade on the basis of paying the lowest wages in the most dangerous working conditions. Therefore, if we are to build closer economic relations with new trade partners, we need to ensure it is on the basis of shared values of democracy, human rights and sustainability.

When my colleagues on the other side asked why we supported the trade agreement with Jordan, we said that it was not because it was a perfect agreement, but that it is a good agreement. Jordan shares those same values with us and has shown demonstrable progress in the areas of democracy, human rights and labour standards. When it comes to the Panama agreement, we see exactly the opposite.

Therefore, I would question why we would want to enter into this agreement with a partner that has shown a disrespect for human rights, that has some of the lowest labour standards in Central America and where Canadian companies are involved in projects that often have quite severe environmental consequences.

I would ask the government that when it thinks about new partners, that it go back to those basic values. Yes, we want to see trade, but we want to see trade based on efficiency and innovation. We do not want to see trade on the basis of offloading environmental costs, paying low wages, dangerous working conditions and those which threaten the rights of free expression in order to proceed with those dangerous economic conditions. When we do that, I think we will find many good partners around the world to trade with and that trade will advance the interests of both nations.

Therefore, for the reasons I have outlined, I will be voting against the free trade agreement with Panama and I will be urging all members of the House to do so.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fundamentally disagree with the premise of my colleague's discussion.

In our view, we agree that there needs to be a set of values, standards and regulations that all abide by, and that is exactly what free trade agreements do. They allow two countries, two parties, to come together and have an agreement to move the yardstick further in terms of human rights, values and corporate environment in which companies should work.

I find it interesting that the NDP members take credit for supporting one agreement with Jordan, even though they say it is not perfect. Then in the same sentence, they say that they would agree with having multilateral agreements with countries.

I would like the member to name the countries that the NDP would support Canada having multilateral free trade agreements with so it can be on the record. I would like to know what countries they would like us to pursue.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member misses the point when we talk about multilateral. When we talk about multilateral agreements, the point is to involve as many nations as possible to remove artificial barriers to trade. Multilateral by its very nature means that we would attempt to work through organizations like the World Trade Organization to remove those legitimate trade barriers.

It is very interesting when the member says that he does not share the premise of our discussion. However, he points to Panama and says that we have some kind of provision in that agreement to encourage Panama to have higher labour and environmental standards and greater respect for human rights. Those amendments were put forward by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster and the members of the Liberal Party and Conservative Party voted against them. If we had those kinds of guarantees in an agreement, we might be able to support it, but we certainly cannot in this case.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a consistency problem within the New Democratic Party. On the one hand, its members want desperately to try to show that they are in favour of some form of free trade, but we just do not know exactly what. They are consistent on the fact that they do not like Panama. I have detected that in the comments as expressed by numerous members.

There were NDP members on the Jordan file who said yes to Jordan, while other members had said no to Jordan. They never did request a formal vote so we really do not know where they stand on the Jordan file. I think there is a lot of controversy within their own caucus on that issue. However, it is valid to point out that on Panama we know clearly where the NDP stands.

Does the member believe that there is a united NDP caucus in dealing with freer trade with other countries? As the previous member asked, is he prepared to share with the House other examples, one or two other countries, that NDP members might have a consensus within their caucus to support freer trade?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, the Liberals as well as the Conservatives miss the point of multilateral agreements. Multilateral agreements tend to invite all parties in to try improve them.

However, if the member is asking me to name one country that I personally think we should look at expanding trade with it would be Brazil. It is a great example of a country that has made huge progress on democracy, labour standards and human rights standards.

Another interesting question we could ask is this. Why is the government pursuing a free trade agreement with Panama? It was in talks with the government of El Salvador, but when it elected a progressive president, the government abruptly cut off those talks and went on to work other partners like Honduras and Panama, which have a much worse human rights record.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for talking about sustainable development. We had a bill in the House on corporate social responsibility for Canadian companies working overseas and it was defeated.

Could the member comment on the need to have that kind of corporate social responsibility for Canadian companies that operate in countries like Panama?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Burnaby—New Westminster was doing very good work in trying to introduce a private member's bill to guarantee that Canadian companies would respect the same standards abroad that we would expect them to respect at home. Unfortunately, the examples I gave on Panama today largely involved Canadian companies operating in Panama in conflict with indigenous people and in some projects that had some very severe environmental consequences.

I look forward to a time when we in the House can impose the same standards on Canadian companies abroad that we expect them to meet at home.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to have this opportunity to talk about the benefits for Canadian investors. My speech today will be about the investment aspects of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Foreign investment is a crucial component of today's modern economy. Foreign investment not only brings with it jobs, but increases the transfer of know-how, efficiencies and economies of scale to a host of economic opportunities. These markers of success, in addition to the people ties fostered, help strengthen Canada's global competitiveness at home and pave the way for new opportunities for Canadian companies overseas. These opportunities help Canadian companies remain globally competitive by ensuring their integration into the world economy.

At the end of 2011, Canadian direct investment abroad reached an all-time high of $684 billion. The value of the stock of foreign direct investment within Canada is also impressive. By the end of 2011, Canada had attracted more than $607 billion in foreign direct investment.

I will pause for a moment to remind my colleagues and to emphasize that the actual numbers from the end of 2011 show there is more investment from Canadian companies abroad than direct investment we get from foreign companies. This is important. We often hear in the House, on the street and in our ridings, that Canada is hollowing out, that Canadian companies are being sold and we are losing our control. In actual fact, that is not the case. Canadian companies are more aggressive and progressive in investing in foreign lands than the money that comes into our country.

As the past few years have demonstrated, the Canadian economy has proven to be a safe harbour as the global economy faces severe challenges. Canada is home to 27 of the Financial Times “Global 500” companies. More top global companies have headquarters in Canada than in Germany, India, Brazil, Russia or Italy.

Canada has also outpaced its G7 partners with its economic growth, the fastest it has been in the last 10 years, as a result of having lower corporate taxes, prudent fiscal management and financial regulation, a business climate that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship and an open economy that welcomes foreign direct investment.

Canada must remain diligent to ensure that our economic credentials remain strong at home and that Canadian businesses continue to have access to an increasing number of investment opportunities abroad. This is why it is important for us to leverage our investment relationships that we have around the world and with countries like Panama.

While data is unavailable for the end of 2011, the stock of Canadian direct investment in Panama was estimated by Statistics Canada to have reached $121 million at the end of 2010. Canadian investment in Panama, primarily found in the financial services and the mining sector, also has strong potential for growth.

There are many Canadian investment success stories around the world and Panama is no different. Scotia Bank has been in Panama since 1973 and has expanded to become the country's fifth largest commercial bank. SNC-Lavalin moved its Central American regional office to Panama in 2006. Inmet Mining Corporation continues to develop its copper mine in Panama, which is now over 13,000 hectares.

Opportunities for Canadian investors in Panama are also poised to grow in the future. We have heard about the tremendous opportunities that exist in Panama with respect to large numbers of infrastructure projects.

In addition to the ongoing $5.3 billion U.S. Panama Canal expansion project, the government of Panama has numerous projects either under construction or already in progress. These projects include the building or improvement of ports, roads, hospitals, social housing projects, bridges and airports, which are part of the U.S. $13.6 billion Panamanian government strategic investment plan for 2010 to 2014.

Under this plan, a large number of infrastructure projects would create new opportunities for Canadian businesses. A country like Canada, with so much expertise to take advantage of these significant opportunities in Panama, must act now. The current and future opportunities for Canadian investors show how important it is to enhance our investment relationship with countries like Panama.

This agreement would do just that by building upon a Canada-Panama Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement signed in 1998. By enhancing the investment provisions under this agreement, a free trade agreement with Panama would provide investors from both countries with the benefits that come with enhanced investment obligations. These provisions, which would promote the two-way flow of investments between Panama and Canada, would provide a range of obligations that would benefit investors from both countries.

They are designed to protect investment abroad, through legally binding rights and obligations. The investment obligations of this agreement incorporate several key principles. They include: treatment that is non-discriminatory and meets a minimum standard; protection against expropriation without compensation, meaning we cannot take land or property without compensation; and the free transfer of funds without penalty.

In short, Canadian investors would be treated in a non-discriminatory manner. This dynamic would help foster an investment relationship between our two countries and pave the way for an increased flow of investment for the years ahead.

Through this agreement, investors would also have access to transparent, impartial and binding dispute settlement systems.

While this agreement would ensure that investors and their investments are protected, it would not prevent either Canada or Panama from regulating in their public interest, with respect to health, to safety and to the environment.

The investment provisions also include an article on corporate social responsibility. This provision recognizes that Canada expects and encourages Canadian companies operating abroad to observe internationally recognized standards of responsible business conduct. This provision would also help level the playing field for Canadian investors when they invest abroad by encouraging CSR principles among all investors.

Overall, this agreement would send a positive signal to our partners around the world about the openness of Canada to foreign investment. This agreement would enhance investment opportunities abroad for all Canadians.

Foreign investment links Canadian companies to global value chains and to new economic opportunities. This enhances our competitiveness and increases the flow of goods and services between Canada and our trading partners.

To date, Canadian companies have shown a significant interest in investing in the Panamanian economy. However, as time passes, opportunities for Canadian investors are at risk. That is why it is critical that Canadian companies have the ability to strike while the iron is hot. I encourage members not to delay the approval of this agreement.

Our government has been very clear that trade and investment are vital to the economic growth and long-term prosperity of Canadians. That is why our government continues to move forward with an ambitious free trade agreement agenda that focuses on creating partnerships with key nations around the world. To take advantage of commercial opportunities around the world, we must do everything we can to open doors for Canadian businesses.

That is why I ask all hon. members to show their support for the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find the member opposite to be a kind, caring and sensible man. However, this agreement and others have side agreements for the environment and human rights. One of the problems with side agreements is that they do not have any teeth. They are not enforceable.

A very simple way to get MPs in this House on board with trade deals is to move those two things, the environment and human rights agreements, into the body of the agreement so that there are some teeth, so that there is an opportunity for people to voice their concerns and to have them heard.

Does my normally very sensible friend across the way not think that is a good idea?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the kinds words of the member opposite.

It is a bit of a red herring. It is in the agreement. We have side agreements on particular issues. Negotiation on free trade agreements is a two-way street. The member and his colleagues in the NDP believe that it is the Canada way or no way. We do not believe that. We believe this is an opportunity. When we sign these free trade agreements, there are issues that we need to deal with, whether they are with labour or the environment. We have discussions and put it in writing in, as he defines it, as a side agreement. It is progress. It is the way to move forward on creating jobs for Canadians.

The NDP way is to take the ball and go home. Nothing gets accomplished, no jobs for Canadians and no future for Canadian businesses abroad. That is not the way to go.

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre NDP Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very fine speech. But I cannot totally agree with what he said in his remarks.

Once more, I will ask the question I have already asked several of his colleagues today. But this time, I would appreciate a semblance of an answer.

We have signed a double taxation agreement with Panama. That can give us access to all legal and fiscal tools. I do not know why there has been no agreement to exchange tax information between Canada and Panama. That would have given us access to all types of income, whether earned by legal or illegal means.

Why was that not put in place? Canada has signed tax information exchange agreements with several countries and Panama also has signed them with several countries. In the light of what went on in Panama a few years ago, and of what is still going on, why do we not have this tax security measure in this bill?

CANADA-PANAMA ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY ACTGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has heard the answer before. What we were dealing with on the free trade agreement had to do with tariffs and investment. There is an issue with the tax treatment of companies that are doing business in Panama. We have many tax exchange agreements, as the member said, with other countries. The United States has a tax agreement with Panama, which is relatively new. I can say that we are working on the tax issue. It was not ready in time to be included in this, but it is an issue we know we need to deal with as a government.

Denying Canadian companies an opportunity to do business in Panama and reducing the barriers to trade with Panama is not the right approach, in our view, in terms of moving the yardstick further along to accomplish those goals, including a tax agreement.