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.


Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree with the member. Basically I am in favour of free trade, especially if it is fair trade, if it benefits all parties and if it does not harm the environment or workers.

I am particularly interested in the issue of signing a free trade agreement with a country that is so well-known for money laundering and will not sign international conventions to prevent it. I would like to hear a little more about how the member feels about that.

Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Judy Sgro York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I suppose that goes back to Canada being the one to sign the agreement when it meets a level of standard that we can say, “It is great that we got this agreement signed”. I would like to ensure that we have everything we need in there to protect Canada's interests and also protect the world's interests.

We should not just be looking at the ultimate dollars and cents that would be transacted. We need to look at what is good for the world. It is not a question of living in isolation and thinking only about Canada. We need to have the safeguards in place to ensure the world will be better off, not just Canada or Panama, within the agreement?

With a variety of things that continue to move forward, I would like to see more safeguards put on this issue. I think it would be very beneficial for the government to ensure there are some safeguards where, if within 12 months of an issue not being dealt with, the government would be able to cancel the agreement. I would much rather see that kind of clause in this agreement.

Government Orders

June 19th, 2012 / 10:50 a.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia


Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House of Commons today to speak on what I think is an important matter for our country and its standing in the world, and that is the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Specifically, I would like to address one important element of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement that has not received a lot of attention, and that is the provisions on government purchasing.

Our government has been at the forefront of efforts to expand and secure access to foreign government procurement markets. Why? According to OECD statistics, government purchasing plays a significant role in the economy of most countries. It accounts for approximately 10% to 15% of a country's GDP, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars annually around the globe.

These markets present significant opportunities for Canadian suppliers. Through the negotiation of international trade obligations in this area, our government is working hard to enable Canadians to take advantage of these market opportunities. These obligations also support our own domestic interests in obtaining best value for Canadian taxpayers in government procurement. Increasing access, competition and fairness in government procurement serves this overall policy objective.

Lastly, our government actions help to promote an international framework for procurement, a framework that strengthens good governance through efficiency and effective management of public resources and through reducing corruption and conflict of interest in government purchasing around the globe. More accountability, more transparency and more value for taxpayers' dollars all help suppliers, governments and taxpayers to benefit from these efforts.

We seek to accomplish these goals by negotiating agreements such as the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement and specific chapters in Canada's comprehensive free trade agreements. I am happy to report that our government recently welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations to modernize the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement. This agreement was recently tabled before Parliament. As the tabling period ended on June 12, the government will now proceed to implement the agreement. However, our efforts to secure and expand opportunities for Canadian suppliers go well beyond the WTO.

Most of Canada's bilateral free trade agreements, from the North American Free Trade Agreement itself, NAFTA, to those with Chile, Peru and Colombia, have obligations on government purchasing, as they should. These obligations are based on a core set of principles: non-discrimination between domestic and foreign suppliers, transparency and fair process. These principles provide greater public access to information on government purchasing and a fair opportunity for suppliers to compete. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement being debated here today is another step in our efforts to fulfill these objectives and create jobs and economic prosperity for hard-working Canadians and to reach out to partners who we believe are making progress.

As many would know, Panama has a dynamic and rapidly growing economy, as has been referenced in the House many times, and Canada's businesses have long been interested in gaining or expanding access to this emerging market. Despite the global economic downturn since 2008, Panama's economy continues to show strong signs of growth and improvement in many areas, including some of the expressed concerns we have heard about tax laws. In fact, it is of interest to note that its political stability and progressive business environment have helped Panama achieve consistent average growth of 6% to 7% over the past several years.

Panama is also an ideal location for Canadian businesses seeking to expand and build long-term business ventures in the region. Often the most difficult contract to secure is the first one, so this agreement would make it easier for Canadian businesses to establish a credible presence in the region.

Panama's government and its markets, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, transportation and services, represent a significant opportunity for Canadian suppliers, particularly those in the engineering and construction industries and environmental technology. Perhaps the greatest example is the ambitious $5.3 billion project to expand the Panama Canal, which would be at the top of the list. Here was an opportunity for Canadian engineers and construction companies to bid on contracts, on what is, of course, a significant gateway for the shipping industry here in North America. The Panama Canal, as we know, serves as a key transportation hub between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is a significant driver of Panama's economy and many economies, including the Canadian economy.

Its expansion will lead to increased container traffic, some of which will access Canadian ports to supply the North American market. We know that post-Panamax vessels and super-post-Panamax vessels are now coming into ports around our country. This is a significant driver for the Canadian economy.

That said, the project for this canal's expansion is already well under way, so there is a timeliness aspect to moving forward on this free trade agreement. We must act quickly to ensure that Canadian companies will be given a fair opportunity to compete for a broad range of opportunities overseen by the Panama Canal Authority.

The opportunities exist well beyond this canal. In 2010, the Panamanian government announced an infrastructure plan valued at $13.6 billion over five years. This enormous infrastructure project has many projects that are well under way and progressing to build and improve roads and hospitals, social housing, bridges and airports. Among these projects is the Panamanian government's plan to construct a metro system, estimated at $1.5 billion.

These projects underscore the ambition of Panama's infrastructure plans and present, as I mentioned earlier, opportunities for Canadian companies and workers. These are just a few of the innovations that are happening in the region, where Canadian firms can position themselves and take advantage of this opportunity, should we enter into this free trade agreement in the region.

SNC-Lavalin is an obvious Canadian leader when it comes to these types of contracts. It was recently awarded a contract to help design and build the project infrastructure for the world-class copper mine in Panama. This award represents a tremendous opportunity, covering project infrastructure valued at $3.2 billion. The project is scheduled to be operational in 2016, and the mine is expected to have a life of about 30 years.

The Royal Canadian Mint has also been active through its production of the commemorative Balboa coins. B.C.-based Helitech supplies helicopter avionics technology to the Panamanian police. Kubik, a leading museum and gallery space creator from Mississauga, Ontario, has been awarded the design, development, installation and commissioning of Panama's biodiversity museum.

Canadian companies clearly have the expertise to meet Panama's development plans. These are competitive companies that are world leaders in many of these areas, particularly in engineering and design and construction.

The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would guarantee access for Canadian suppliers to these types of procurement opportunities, reducing the risk of doing business in the region. Moreover, the free trade agreement would ensure that Canadian suppliers can compete and win on the same basis as their main competitors, mainly in the United States of America.

It is our job, as parliamentarians, as members of the government, to ensure that Canadian companies have secure access to opportunities of this nature.

This is very much in keeping with the plans and vision this government has for our country: to increase opportunities, to see our companies thrive in the international marketplace and continue to expand into areas like Panama and the region of the Americas.

They do this so that they can create opportunities, so they can create jobs, meaningful employment for Canadians, and prosperity for the shareholders in many of these companies, the employees and the communities.

I would now ask for the support of all members for the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. I believe this would be good for Canada. It would be good for our relationship in the region and continued opportunities that will open.

Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Madam Speaker, the minister is looking for the support of the New Democratic Party, obviously, for this free trade deal. We have said over and over again that free trade must be based on consistent ethical behaviour on the part of those countries in the development of these relationships.

Quite clearly Panama, with its reputation for money laundering and its worldwide reputation for tax evasion, is one of those counties that is under question. We have heard some evidence that it has made some improvements in tax evasion, but at the same time, how are we guaranteed that this relationship will not actually lead to Canadian companies having more opportunities to move into areas of ethical behaviour that are really not appropriate?

If we are going into a free trade arrangement with a country that has a lower moral and ethical business environment, and we are bringing our companies in there on the basis of increased free trade, how is that going to improve the standing of Canadian companies in the world in a way we can respect as Canadians?

Government Orders

11 a.m.


Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a legitimate question. The short answer is engagement. I would suggest to my colleague that the answer is through engagement, through encouraging countries like Panama to live up to those standards, the standards we expect of companies here in Canada.

We do know and he did reference the fact that Panama has come a long way. In fact, information that I have been provided, and that has been referenced by my colleague from London West earlier, indicates that in July the OECD formally placed Panama on a list of jurisdictions that have substantially implemented international standards for exchange of information.

We know it is a signatory to the labour organization. We know it has, in 1998 in fact, under the declaration of fundamental principles of rights to work, come forward with greater attempts at fairness and transparency, all of those things that we encourage here in Canada. So, there are strong signals that are being sent that Panama is improving.

I would suggest that giving Canadians opportunities, the ability to compete, to set a standard and to lead by example would improve Panama's overall quality of life and its standards, and it would look to Canada for example.

Government Orders

11 a.m.


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

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the two speakers from the Conservative Party, and I am wondering about a few things. One of the issues the last speaker talked about was development opportunities for Quebec and Canadian companies, including engineering companies like SNC-Lavalin.

I am wondering about the comments the previous speaker made about the hog industry in Quebec. He said that Quebeckers would potentially deprive themselves of exports in that sector. I checked my information and I noticed that we do not have any trade with Panama in pork. We trade with the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and the list goes on, yet we have nothing with Panama.

I have a question that I would like to ask the hon. member: what are the chances that Panama would export more pork to Canada, rather than the other way around?

Government Orders

11 a.m.


Peter MacKay Central Nova, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her question. It is obviously important to have opportunities in agriculture and other industries.

What I can tell my hon. friend is that the elimination of tariffs is what the free trade agreement would accomplish. That certainly has implications for the Quebec hog industry, for the forest industry in my own region of Atlantic Canada and, in fact, across the country.

I am told that the pharmaceutical industry, the aerospace industry and all of these are just a few examples of industries that would benefit from the reduction or the elimination of tariffs.

We also, as I mentioned in my remarks, would see companies like SNC-Lavalin and engineering firms have the ability to compete on a more level playing field for construction and projects such as the Panama Canal.

I would encourage my colleague and all my colleagues opposite to support the free trade agreement. There has been significant debate in this Parliament and the last Parliament. Time is of the essence and time is wasting.

For our economy, this is important. We need to move forward productively.

Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill today.

This bill started life as Bill C-46 in the last Parliament. The bill came to an end when the election was called. It was introduced in November of this past year and is now called Bill C-24.

I point that out because nothing has changed. There was an opportunity for the government to listen to all the debate, in committee and in this House, on the old bill and to make some adjustments and changes so the rest of the House could find it acceptable, and it did not. As a result, New Democrats continue to oppose this bill, for that reason and a number of others.

In the last Parliament, compelling testimony was heard from witnesses regarding the tax haven situation in the Republic of Panama, as well as the poor record of labour rights in the country. Motions and amendments that would address the glaring issues in the agreement were introduced by our member for Burnaby—New Westminster, but were opposed and defeated by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. The new legislation, despite a new and inspirational short title, does nothing to address the fundamental flaws of its previous manifestation, most importantly the tax disclosure issues that have yet to be meaningfully addressed, despite protestations to the contrary from the Panamanian government, and undoubtedly from the Conservative government, as we raise this issue.

Just before the clause-by-clause review of the old Bill C-46, our member for Burnaby—New Westminster proposed to the Standing Committee on Internation Trade a motion that would stop the implementation of the Canada–Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. The member's motion was defeated by both the Conservatives and the Liberals, who argued that the double taxation agreement Panama had agreed to sign was satisfactory.

Unfortunately, the double taxation agreement only tracks legal income, while a tax information exchange agreement would track all income, including that made through illegal means. Considering Panama's history and reputation on such matters, it should be clear why such an agreement is necessary before signing a free trade deal.

Another issue is human rights in Panama and the complete failure of this trade agreement to ensure that these rights would not be denied to Panamanian workers as they have been in the past. Two amendments put forth in committee would have protected trade union workers in Panama by offering the right of collective bargaining as well as requiring the Minister of International Trade, as the principal representative of Canada on the joint Panama–Canada commission, to consult on a regular basis with representatives of Canadian labour and trade unions.

Like all other amendments, these were defeated by the Conservatives and Liberals. Unfortunately, this would create a free trade zone that belittles the rights of labour, a serious problem already prevalent in Panama.

In addition, two amendments regarding definitions were proposed. The first was regarding the definition of sustainable development. The amendment would define sustainable development as:

development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as set out in the Brundtland Report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development.

The second amendment was regarding the definition of sustainable investment. The amendment would define sustainable investment as:

investment that seeks to maximize social good as well as financial return, specifically in the areas of environment, social justice and corporate governance, in accordance with the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment.

The NDP prefers a multilateral approach, based on a fair and sustainable trade model. In fact, bilateral trade deals amount to protectionist trade deals, since they give preferential treatment to a few partners and exclude the rest. This puts weaker countries in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis the larger partners. A multilateral fair trade model would avoid these issues while protecting human rights and the environment.

New Democrats reaffirm our vision for a fair trade policy that puts the pursuit of social justice, strong public sector social programs and the elimination of poverty at the heart of an effective trade strategy.

Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fair, sustainable and equitable trade that builds trading partnerships with other countries that support the principles of social justice and human rights, while also expanding business opportunity.

The federal government should stop exclusively pursuing the NAFTA model at the expense of all other alternatives, and then it should invest in other avenues of trade growth, including, above all, a vigorous trade promotion strategy that builds the Canadian brand abroad, along the lines of the Australian experience.

For example, it is shocking to see that the European Union spends in excess of 500 times more than Canada in promoting one single industry—in this case, its wine industry.

Fair trade should be the overarching principle, not just an afterthought of trade negotiations. The NDP strongly believes in an alternative and a better form of trading relationship that can be established with Panama and any other country, one that includes within an overall fair trade strategy the points that follow.

The first is to provide a comprehensive common sense impact assessment on all international agreements that demonstrates that trade deals Canada negotiates are beneficial to Canadian families, workers and industry. The government does not sign any trade agreement that would lead to a net job loss.

Second is ensuring that the trade agreements Canada negotiates support Canada's sovereignty and freedom to chart its own policy, support our ability to be a competitive force on the world stage and support the principles of a multilateral fair trade system.

Third is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements must promote and protect human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any product that is deemed to have been created under sweatshop conditions, forced labour or other conditions that are not in accordance with fundamental international labour standards and human rights.

The fourth is the fundamental principle that all trade agreements should respect sustainable development and the integrity of all ecosystems.

The fifth is that any time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to proceed with enabling legislation must be subject to a binding vote on whether or not to accept the terms of the agreement. The current system, which consists of tabling FTAs in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification, is not mandatory and does not bind the government to a decision in the House.

In the last Parliament during the study of the bill, the committee heard testimony from Todd Tucker of the Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Mr. Tucker made a compelling case that Panama is one of the world's worst tax havens and that the Panamanian government has intentionally allowed the nation to become a tax haven. The tax haven situation in Panama is not improving under the current government and conditions in Panama. In addition, a trade agreement with Canada would only worsen the problem and could cause harm to both Panama and to Canada.

Teresa Healy of the Canadian Labour Congress spoke to the committee regarding the agreement on labour co-operation. She testified that while the International Labour Organization's core labour standards are invoked, the agreement is still weaker than it should be. As well, the current Panamanian government has been increasingly harsh on labour unions and workers in recent years.

It is interesting to note that when my colleague from London West spoke, he indicated that there is some agreement on another trade deal, the Canada-Jordan trade deal.

While New Democrats are not against free trade, we believe it is important that it should always be fair trade. Unfortunately, in this situation it does not happen.

To be fair to the Conservatives, they have moved a little toward the centre. There was a time not so long ago when they would not have even talked about the environment or human rights.

I see my time is up. I look forward to any questions the House may have.

Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Bruce Hyer Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, as usual, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River has done a very thoughtful analysis of this bill. He talked a lot about what others have talked about here, such as money laundering and the lack of democracy and workers' rights, but I would like to raise a point to see if he finds it a concern also.

Panama's environment has a wealth of biodiversity. It is one of the countries with the most biodiversity in the world. The agreement does not deal with that at all, or with any protections for the environment. Panama has a lot of serious problems, including water pollution from agricultural runoff, threats to the fishery resource, endangerment of wildlife habitats and biodiversity, deforestation on a massive scale, land degradation and loss of wetlands.

I wonder if the hon. member is also concerned about that and wants to add anything.

Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my friend for Thunder Bay—Superior North for that question. It allows me an opportunity to continue with the line of thought that I had a moment ago, that is, talking about the environment and human rights.

The government has moved on these areas. Before, it did not talk about it; now it has some side deals on it.

To answer my friend's question, the problem with the side deal on the environment is that it does not have any teeth. There is no enforcement. My question to the government with this and all of the other trade deals is this: if the government has started talking about human rights and the environment, why leave them as side deals? Why not put them into the body of the agreement so that there is some enforcement capability, so that the environment and human rights become part of the whole trade agreement and there is some enforcement? I think government members would be very happy to see that.

Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to build on what my colleague was saying a minute ago. We know that even with NAFTA there is a framework for oversight on the environment and on labour, and that there is a panel to which citizens have recourse if they have a concern around what is happening with respect to the environment. It can be from Mexico, the United States or Canada.

That is not in this deal.

The notion that we cannot have binding and enforceable mechanisms in trade deals does not seem to make any sense. The government has said that is the best it can do, but we want responsible trade on this side, and the government wants to just simply sign off on whatever.

What does the member think about the mechanisms we have in existing trade deals, such as the ones I mentioned, and the ability to put those into future trade deals so that we actually have responsible trade?

Government Orders

11:15 a.m.


John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

My friend from Ottawa is absolutely right. Responsible trade is the goal. Unfortunately, the Conservatives see having any kind of mechanism to protect the environment or to protect human rights built into the body of an agreement as frivolous. They see it as an opportunity for people to voice their concerns, but they are not interested in their concerns.

Those mechanisms can be built. They can be built in to work for all of the parties. It is distressing to see that the government does not seem to be interested in trade deals or in any other matter in which there is some questioning of its decisions. I do not think that is good for democracy and I do not think it is good for free trade agreements.

There are models, and it would be very easy to build these into free trade agreements so that there is a possibility for discussion and for enforcement and so that the world would see Canada as a leader in fair and responsible trade.

Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today about the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act. At a time when Canadian businesses are faced with tough economic challenges, the benefits that the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will provide are tremendously important to our economy.

This government clearly demonstrates that our top priority continues to be jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity, growth and prosperity that will benefit Canadian businesses, workers and their families. That is why the implementation of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a priority for this government.

The economic benefits of the agreement are clear. A free trade agreement with Panama will give Canadian exporters, investors and service providers preferential access to one of the fastest-growing markets in the Americas.

Panama has a dynamic and rapidly expanding economy, with real GDP growth, estimated at 10.6% in 2011. Such remarkable growth produces tremendous economic opportunities. Once implemented, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will help facilitate access to these opportunities for Canadian companies. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement will provide Canadian businesses with improved market access for goods and services, as well as a stable and predictable environment for investments in Panama.

Upon implementation of this agreement, Panama will immediately eliminate tariffs, representing approximately 90% of recent imports from Canada. Let me explain what these benefits actually mean for the various sectors of our economy.

First, for our agricultural sector, which in 2011 exported $23.6 million worth of agriculture and agrifood to Panama, the free trade agreement will immediately eliminate tariffs on 89% of Canada's current agricultural exports. This is important considering the current tariffs on Canada's main agricultural exports to Panama range from zero to as high as 70%. Products that will receive immediate duty-free access include beef, pork, frozen potato products, pulses, malt, oil seeds, maple syrup and Christmas trees, a cornucopia of Canadiana.

The free trade agreement will also benefit exports in non-agricultural sectors through the elimination of Panamanian tariffs, including pharmaceuticals, wood, pulp and paper products, electrical and industrial machinery, vehicles and auto parts, information and communications technology, the aerospace sector, plastic products, fish and seafood, as well as iron and steel products.

For the pharmaceutical sector, the elimination of Panamanian tariffs, ranging from 5% to 11%, will benefit Canadian exporters of many of these goods. For the pulp and paper sector, which exported to Panama $5.3 million worth of goods in 2011, the elimination of Panamanian tariffs, ranging from 5% to 15% on certain paper products, will benefit Canadian exporters of goods, such as books, wallpaper, packing materials, boxes and corrugated cardboard.

Tariff elimination of aerospace products will also enable Canadian exports to be more competitive in Panama. In 2011 Canada exported to Panama $8.1 million of aerospace products, including various ground flying trainers, turbo propellers and airplane and helicopter parts. The immediate elimination of Panama's 3% to 15% tariffs on aerospace products will promote the competitiveness of Canadian exporters of these products.

The information and communication technology sector, a sector of particular importance in my riding of Kitchener--Waterloo, will also benefit from this agreement. Canada exports a variety of information and communication technology products to Panama, representing about $4 million in 2011, and these include examples such as radar systems and machines for the reception and conversion of voice images or other data. The elimination of Panama's 3% to 15% tariffs on information and communication technology products will help Canadian exporters expand their presence in the Panamanian market.

While Panama is a signatory to the WTO information technology agreement, or the ITA, which eliminates duties on certain information technology products, the majority of Canada's information and technology exports to Panama are not covered by the WTO ITA and will therefore benefit from the elimination of Panama's tariffs through this free trade agreement.

However, there is more. This agreement is also expected to have a positive impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector, which as we all know has experienced some challenges in recent times.

In 2011 Canada exported $18.6 million of a variety of electrical and industrial machinery to Panama, including machinery for working rubber and plastics, machine tools for forging and stamping, as well as electrical switch boards and panels. A variety of Canadian machinery exports are currently subject to Panamanian tariffs, ranging from 3% to 15%. Tariffs on these products would also be eliminated.

As an additional case in point, I should also highlight the vehicles and auto parts sector. The elimination of Panamanian tariffs on vehicles and parts, which range from 3% to an astonishing 20%, will help Canadian businesses exporting these products.

As we can see, numerous sectors of the Canadian economy will benefit from this free trade agreement. By opening up foreign markets, we create opportunities for Canadian businesses in a wide range of sectors, which is crucial in our export-driven economy.

Certain members of Parliament continue to criticize the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, claiming that Panama is a “tax haven”. I would like to kindly remind those members that, in July 2011, the OECD formally placed Panama on its list of jurisdictions that had substantially implemented international standards for the exchange of tax information, commonly known as the white list. This important achievement demonstrates Panama's commitment to combat international tax evasion, and I trust it will appease the concerns regarding taxation.

Panama is committed to the implementation of this free trade agreement and has already completed its domestic ratification process. Canada cannot stand by while other countries forge closer economic ties with this strategic partner. Panama's FTA negotiations with the European Union were concluded in May 2010 and this agreement could possibly enter into force before the end of this year.

Even more important to Canada, however, our main competitor in the Panamanian market, the United States, has completed an FTA with Panama that the United States Congress has already approved. The United States-Panama trade promotion agreement could very well enter into force this fall.

Both the United States and the European Union will soon benefit from their trade agreements with Panama. If Canada does not quickly implement its free trade agreement with Panama, Canadian companies will be at a competitive disadvantage as competitors benefit from preferential access to the Panamanian market.

For all of these reasons, I ask all hon. members to support the swift implementation of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.

Government Orders

11:30 a.m.


Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in this House today to express my opposition to Bill C-24, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.

In spite of what Conservatives accuse, New Democrats do believe in trade. We do want to expand Canadian business and we do want to generate economic growth. However, the bill overlooks distressing concerns when it comes to Panama's record on environmental issues and workers' rights. New Democrats believe that we can do trade without it being ultimately harmful to the citizens of those countries and to the environment.

The NDP believes in free trade that is fair, viable and realistic, a fair trade policy that, as part of an effective trading strategy, prioritizes social justice, strong public sector social programs, poverty elimination, and a trade policy based on sustainable fair trade. These should be the guiding principles for trade negotiations, not afterthoughts.

The NDP is calling on the federal government to stop focusing exclusively on the NAFTA-based model and consider other alternatives. It should explore other ways to increase trade. There is another, better model of trade relations that could be established with Panama or any other country, a model that would include the following elements within a comprehensive fair trade strategy.

First, it includes a comprehensive and rational impact analysis for all international agreements to determine whether the trade agreements being negotiated by Canada are good for Canadian families, Canadian workers and Canadian industries. The government should not sign any trade agreement that is likely to lead to a net loss of jobs.

Second, this model includes a guarantee that trade agreements negotiated by Canada will strengthen Canada's sovereignty and its freedom to establish its own policy, that they will help make us a force to be reckoned with on the world stage and that they will support the principles of a fair multilateral trade system.

Third, this model follows the fundamental principle whereby all trade agreements must protect and promote human rights by prohibiting the import, export or sale in Canada of any products considered to have been manufactured in sweatshops, by forced labour, or under any other conditions that do not meet basic international standards for labour or human rights.

Fourth, this model includes the fundamental principle whereby all trade agreements should respect the notion of sustainable development, as well as the integrity of all ecosystems.

Fifth, under this model, every time the Government of Canada signs a free trade agreement, the decision to adopt the enabling legislation must be submitted to a mandatory vote on whether or not the terms of the agreement are acceptable. The current system, which consists of tabling a free trade agreement in the House for a period of 21 sitting days prior to ratification, is not mandatory and does not bind the government to accept a decision of the House.

Canada's trade policy should be based on the principles of fairness, sustainability and equity. This is how we can and should pursue real and sustainable economic growth, because sustainability will result in long-term economic health and prosperity for our country and the countries with which we do trade.

The NDP opposes this bill on free trade between Canada and Panama for one specific reason: we are worried about the rights of workers in Panama and we suspect that this trade agreement contains no provisions to ensure that the rights of Panamanian workers are not violated, as they have been in the past.

The New Democrats want the kind of growth that is mutually beneficial for our trading partners and their citizenry, not only because it is ethically right to do so but also because it is a safer long-term investment that will yield better growth over time.

Canada and Panama are not equals in trade, but the types of agreements and trade policies in the bill are meant to be between equal industrialized nations. One size does not fit all. We cannot be using this kind of trade agreement when we are talking about a country that is developing.

The reality is that our negotiations with Panama are exploitative. One-third of its population lives in extreme poverty. We want its resources but it will not act in good faith with its citizens to sell them to us. Canada must not take advantage of the needy in developing countries for us to grow economically.

We need to be more flexible in our trade policies so that they are suitable to the countries that we are brokering our deals with.

It should be clear by now that the NDP can only support trade deals when Canada can ensure that the foreign workers who labour to put money in our pockets and in the pockets of Canadian corporations and shareholders are entitled to the same human rights that Canadian workers enjoy. To strive for anything else would be pure hypocrisy.

If we sign a deal with Panama, it should offer Panamanians the right to collective bargaining, just like Canadians enjoy.

Panama has a bad human rights record. The House of Commons committee that studied this agreement heard some very compelling testimony about the fact that the Republic of Panama is a tax haven.

A tax haven is not exactly the type of country with which we should be negotiating this type of agreement. We should be negotiating with industrialized countries. This is a sign of problems to come for Canada.

Panama has refused to sign a tax information exchange agreement, which is a red flag. It is very troubling, given the high volume of money laundering activities in Panama, including laundering of money from drug trafficking.

This is extremely worrying. Panama refusing to sign a tax exchange information agreement is hugely problematic because such an agreement tracks illegal income, as well as legal income. There is an utter lack of transparency around Panama's tax system because, as the OECD has recognized, it is a tax haven for illegal activities, such as harbouring drug cartel money from Mexico and Guatemala. These drug cartels are wreaking havoc on the populations of countries like Mexico and Guatemala.

A few weeks ago, I was in Chile at the ParlAmericas delegation meeting about the summit for women parliamentarians of the Americas. We were talking about the violence against women in these countries, which is often linked to drug money, to illegal trafficking and to very well-coordinated problems that happen in South America, in Central America specifically. We should not be negotiating trade agreements with countries like Panama that do not allow us to see where this money is going when there is a problem that, collectively as the Americas, we are trying to solve. Canada cannot turn a blind eye to this extremely destructive source of illegal drug trade and the systems that facilitate that trade, such as Panama's tax havens.

The NDP cannot support this bill. We have tried to propose amendments to it. For example, my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster proposed amendments on sustainable development and responsible investment. Since the amendments were rejected by both the Conservatives and the Liberals, it is clear that there is no hope left of working together to conclude a good agreement.

That is why the New Democrats will not be supporting Bill C-24.

Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for her excellent speech. I would like to reiterate a few things she said. For one, the NDP are not against free trade agreements. However, we want good agreements that are well thought out. Unfortunately, there are shortcomings in this agreement, as my colleague pointed out.

Moreover, at the end of her speech, she mentioned amendments moved by our colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster concerning workers' rights. He proposed an amendment that would define sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, as set out in the Brundtland Report published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. Unfortunately, the amendment was rejected, to the detriment of workers in Panama.

I would like my colleague to comment on that.