Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be splitting my time with the next sitting at which we discuss this bill.
We are in the House to discuss a bill concerning another free trade agreement, this time with Honduras.
Regardless of the rhetoric that is flying back and forth between both sides of the House regarding trade agreements, I have many friends on the other side of the House—which is not that surprising—who are very familiar with my point of view as an economist. I support free trade agreements in general as well as the principle of trade agreements between countries. However, there must be conditions in place.
We in the official opposition examine every trade agreement and free trade agreement based on three considerations, and I should even say that we examine them under three lenses, to determine whether we can support them or not.
The first lens allows us to determine whether the trade partner that Canada is seeking under such an agreement respects fundamental principles such as human rights, democracy, environmental rights and workers' rights. If that is not the case, we must determine whether the partner in question wants to achieve those objectives. The second lens helps us determine whether the potential partner's economy has any strategic value for Canada. The third lens allows us to examine the terms and conditions of the agreement itself.
When we examined the trade agreement with Europe, for example, it was quite clear that the first two conditions are being met. First of all, Europe is a very strategic partner. Furthermore, there is no doubt that Europe recognizes democratic rights and has very high standards in terms of the environment and workers' rights. The reason we are withholding judgment is that we need to determine whether the terms of the agreement itself are satisfactory. That is why we want to see the text of the agreement.
In the case of the agreement with Honduras that we are discussing right now, it is quite clear that this trade agreement does not measure up to the lenses we use when examining agreements, particularly concerning the issue of democratic rights and human rights.
We can have a discussion to determine whether Honduras is a key strategic partner. As my colleague mentioned, Honduras is currently Canada's 104th largest trade partner. There is indeed economic potential that can be developed. However, compared to other trade partners we might pursue, this is on the whole a minor agreement.
The member for Vancouver Kingsway, our international trade critic, raised some interesting points in committee. On December 10, I attended the meeting of the Standing Committee on International Trade. That meeting was extremely important for determining the future of agreements with countries with questionable track records on democratic rights and human rights. The government seems to be completely disregarding that aspect.
What is more, to hear the speech by the hon. Liberal member for Toronto Centre—whom I wish to welcome to the House of Commons—I think that the Liberals also do not fully understand the extent to which we can leverage trade negotiations to make progress on the issue of human rights, environmental rights, and respecting labour rights. The hon. member mentioned, in a sentence or a paragraph, that it was very important to ensure that this is not just an agreement on paper and that we must do a follow-up to see if indeed it has contributed to advancing democratic rights. She already supports the agreement.
The committee meeting on December 10, 2013, was very enlightening, because not too long ago, we signed an agreement with another country with a very similar track record: Colombia. Annual reports were produced so we could see the progress achieved by Colombia, in particular with respect to environmental rights, but also with respect to human rights and the protection of workers' rights. On a number of occasions, we raised the issue that unionists and people who advocate for better working conditions were regularly threatened or even killed.
The reports are produced, but they cannot be studied in committee, because when we point out that we need to study reports that appear to be incomplete and often raise questions, the government refuses. We print the reports, but we never get a chance to look at the real effects that trade agreements with countries such as Colombia have had on human rights and workers' rights.
That is why I am surprised to see the Liberal Party rushing to support the free trade agreement with Honduras. It is saying that this could help advance human rights. However, there are no mechanisms there that would allow us to see how these agreements affect progress.
We think that is a reason to strongly oppose such an agreement. We have not opposed the agreement with Europe; we have reserved judgment. However, it is clear that the government did not use its power during the negotiations on an agreement like this one.
Honduras obviously wants Canada to be its trade partner, since Canada is an ideal trade partner. However, we are missing a golden opportunity if we do not use the negotiations as leverage to help the country move in the right direction. At the end of the day, the government is considering only the economic aspect, without taking into account the other aspects that directly affect the people of Honduras.
If we are talking about human rights, we need to talk about the overall situation in Honduras. The World Bank makes regular reports on the economy, among other things. These reports indicate that the Honduran economy is growing significantly. In 2010, the economy grew by 3.7% and the projection for 2013 was 3.5%. The economy is therefore experiencing significant growth. Nevertheless, there are many other problems that continue to plague primarily the local population, as well as investors.
I would like to quote what the World Bank had to say on this issue:
High levels of crime and violence are the preeminent development challenge for Honduras, as it is the country with the highest homicide rate in the world. Between 2005 and 2011, the homicide rate in Honduras more than doubled from 37 to 91.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. Most violence is concentrated in urban areas [...] and most victims of homicides are males [...], particularly those between 15 and 34 years of age....
The security of the person is therefore a thorny issue in Honduras. While we are on the subject, we must also consider the environment in which Canadian companies considering doing business in Honduras and businesses associated with Canadian businesses in that country will operate.
The costs are enormous. According to the World Bank, the annual economic costs of violent crime are estimated to be about 10% of Honduras' GDP, which is equivalent to nearly $900 million U.S. per year. The economic argument may therefore be valid. However, we have some serious doubts about Canada's investment in and involvement with Honduras.
It is clear that human rights and the economy are related. Louise Arbour, president of the International Crisis Group, has said that not only is Honduras the world's murder capital, but its justice and law enforcement systems are so weak that most crimes are never prosecuted. Imagine what that would mean for the economic issues on which we may have differing positions.
My colleague spoke very eloquently about human rights. Unfortunately, I will not have time to give many examples. However, I would like to quote what he had to say about the relationship between economic rights, economic agreements and the possibility of moving forward with free trade.
I really liked the speech he gave before the Standing Committee on Finance, in which he quoted Nelson Mandela. In South Africa, a trade action known as an embargo played an important role in ending apartheid. My colleague referred to an interview held with Nelson Mandela when he came to Canada in the 1990s.
I would like to quote what my colleague said before the Standing Committee on Finance with regard to a question Mr. Mandela was asked about the relationship between globalization, free trade and human rights. My colleague said: “[Mr. Mandela] pointed out that human rights and labour rights are inseparable from commercial and trading rights.”
In my opinion, the Standing Committee on International Trade and Parliament felt the same way and therefore included reporting requirements in the free trade agreement with Colombia. The free trade agreement with Honduras could contain reporting requirements as well. If Parliament and the parties in power or in opposition refuse to follow through and consider the fundamental implications for human rights before signing agreements with countries such as Honduras or Colombia, we as parliamentarians are failing to do our part to promote democracy and human rights in the world.
We are calling on the government to account for the absence of this negotiation tool and are asking the same of the Liberal Party, which seems content to blindly support the government in any trade agreement it likes, regardless of the consequences. Those of us on this side of the House will shoulder our responsibilities and will push for answers from the government, since this will likely go to committee.