Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-24, which has to do with a Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
It is very important that we take a stand and take the time to read this free trade agreement, because Panama is an extremely important international partner. Panama is the largest economic power in Central America, partly because of the Panama Canal, which sees a large number of goods pass through. Right now, it is being expanded, which will allow for greater flow and traffic.
Maritime traffic is rather important to Panama. Panama also is specializes in financial services, commerce and tourism. So it is important for us to examine this agreement and decide what this agreement with Panama will contain. We need to do things the right way.
I have listened to my colleagues' comments today and will get back to them shortly. I think that the government is botching this job and is not taking the time to create a worthwhile agreement. The NDP is in favour of free trade agreements if they are responsible and sustainable. Right now, we have the momentum to show that Canada is a leader. Right now, Panama is an emerging country. Canada, as a proud economic partner and world leader, could show Panama the way in terms of proper environmental norms and a system of rights for workers and unions in Panama, and we could make this free trade agreement into an agreement that supports sustainable and viable long-term development.
This could be the time for Canada to move things forward internationally. Canada could be an excellent partner. Unfortunately, the Conservative government is completely ignoring this extremely interesting opportunity that is right in front of it.
The sad thing about this bill is that there has been a time allocation motion, which means that we will not be able to discuss it in greater detail. However, there are a number of interesting points I would like to make. When I read Bill C-24, I noticed a number of shortcomings. My NDP colleagues tried to make amendments to correct those defects, but unfortunately, all of the proposed amendments were rejected.
In my view, the most significant flaw is probably the fact that there is no tax information exchange agreement in this bill. I will say more about that later. There is also a glaring lack of vision with respect to sustainable development. The agreement lacks meaningful protection for the rights of Panamanian workers. We know what happens when jobs and workers are not protected. When that happens in Canada, factories close their doors and move jobs elsewhere. It is important to ensure that Panamanian workers are protected. Another problem is the fact that this is a bilateral agreement, not a multilateral one.
As for the tax information exchange agreement, it may sound very confusing to some, but actually, it is quite simple. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development gives a very good description of tax information exchange agreements on its website. Basically, any country can refer to that description in order to create its own tax information exchange agreement. All of the information is on the website. It was created in 2002, and since that time, many countries, including Canada and Panama, have used this model to clarify their tax information exchange agreements.
So what is a tax information exchange agreement? The following description is from the OECD document:
The purpose of this agreement is to promote international co-operation in tax matters through exchange of information...The agreement grew out of the work undertaken by the OECD to address harmful tax practices...The agreement represents the standard of effective exchange of information for the purposes of the OECD's initiative on harmful tax practices.
As I just mentioned, many countries have followed this model to create their tax information exchange agreements. Canada has entered into several such agreements, for instance with the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Saint Lucia. In 2010, Panama signed a tax information exchange agreement with the United States, one of its biggest financial partners.
I just asked the hon. member for Burlington a question. I asked him why Bill C-24 does not contain this kind of tax information exchange agreement with Panama based on the same model as the one presented by the United States.
I was told that it was not ready in time. That is not a reason. In fact, it is proof that this bill was completely botched. We need to take the time to do things. This is important; it is a free trade agreement. I was honestly shocked when I heard this. If it was not ready in time, why not take the time to do things the way they should be done before presenting them to the House? Why did they not accept the amendments presented by the opposition to resolve the problems with this bill? I wonder.
It was not ready in time, and I find that very sad. This is clear evidence that we should go back, call a halt to this bill and secure an agreement. It is not as if things are pressing and we absolutely must have a free trade agreement with Panama by tomorrow. And it is not as if they are our most important partner. Panama is not Canada's largest trade partner. Bilateral trade in terms of goods between our two countries was worth only $149 million in 2008. We are not even talking about 1%. We have the time to do things right. I do not see why we are not, and it saddens me a little to hear this.
I know that Panama was recently removed from the OECD grey list because it has implemented information exchange standards, but we do not even have these information exchanges with Panama. If that were the case, this bill would already be much better. We do not have a tax information exchange agreement, but the Conservatives, on the other side of the House, are trumpeting the double taxation convention that Panama has agreed to sign. They think that will do.
Is it really enough? I do not think so. Double taxation tax treaties—the definition is on the Canada Revenue Agency website—are designed to avoid double taxation for people who would otherwise pay tax on the same income in two countries. That applies to legitimate income only. A tax information exchange agreement helps track down all income, legitimate or otherwise. It is a much sounder and more interesting way to protect ourselves in terms of taxation standards.
Again, I am extremely disappointed not to find this exchange agreement in the bill, especially since we have already signed such agreements and so has Panama. So why not sign one together? It is a mystery. My colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster proposed some extremely interesting amendments, including some on sustainable development and responsible investment. That is what we want to see. That is the direction we should be taking. We are all responsible. We all live on the same planet and everyone has the right to fairness.
We were also very disappointed that the benefits of sustainable development were not considered. I understand that it is a system of rules, but it has to be applied fairly and it is not included in this bill.
This bill touched on several issues all at once. I will not have time to talk about protection for workers or the environment, which has been clearly bungled in this bill, as it was in Bill C-38. I would like to talk about what we want to see in a Canada-Panama agreement.
We simply want a fair trade policy, one that gives a rightful place to social justice, and fair, sustainable, equitable trade. These are very simple things that should be the basis for a free trade agreement with another country. We should instead be negotiating multilateral agreements. However, if the decision is made to enter into a bilateral agreement such as this one, we have to do more and make a more responsible commitment with this kind of agreement.
We are reaffirming our vision of 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.
Let us protect the environment, protect workers and, at the same time, ensure that the tax measures included in this type of bill are appropriate.