Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Don Valley West.
It is my pleasure this afternoon to highlight how the Canada-Honduras free trade agreement would fit with Canada's strategy for engagement in the Americas.
Canada's prosperity requires expansion beyond our borders into new markets for economic opportunities that serve to grow Canada's exports and investments. As members will recall, the Prime Minister announced the Americas as a foreign policy priority in 2007, with a vision of a more prosperous, secure, and democratic hemisphere. Seven years on, our whole-of-government engagement in the hemisphere has never been stronger.
There are three goals in the Americas strategy. The first is to increase Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity. The second is to address insecurity and advance freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law through capacity-building. The third is to build a stable foundation for Canada's engagement and increased influence in the hemisphere.
Stronger economic ties are becoming increasingly important with uncertainty in the global economy. Our government understands the importance of trade to our economy. It represents one out of every five jobs in Canada and accounts for 64% of our country's annual income.
Increased engagement through trade and commercial economic ties is one of the best ways we can support positive change and sustainable economic growth in the Americas.
Our Conservative government's efforts to increase mutual economic opportunity centre on creating the conditions for a dynamic, transparent, and rules-based commercial and investment environment. In particular, advancing free trade in the Americas opens new doors of opportunity for Canadian and Honduran companies and increases economic benefits for all, including more jobs and prosperity.
Canada and Honduras have enjoyed a very positive relationship since we first established diplomatic relations in 1961. Given our demonstrated commitment to democratic development, our important development assistance program—which is the biggest development program we operate in Central America—and our growing trade and investment linkages, Canada continues to be a constructive partner for Honduras.
Canada, represented by the former minister of the environment, the member for Thornhill, played a leading role in efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the political crisis sparked by the coup d'état in Honduras in June 2009.
On the economic front, bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Honduras reached $257 million in 2012, growing 9% over the previous year. Merchandise exports to Honduras were a modest $38 million in 2012, while imports from Honduras were $218 million. Undoubtedly, our new agreement will allow us to increase our exports substantially in a range of industry sectors.
With respect to capital, Canadian direct foreign investment is most prominent in Honduras in the garment, manufacturing, and mining industries. Tourism is a growing industry in Honduras, and Canadians are a significant factor. From January to October of last year, 25,000 Canadians visited Honduras, with an additional 37,000 Canadians entering the country by cruise ships over that same period.
As with any trade agreement, various industries in each province would benefit through increased exports and the new jobs that would be created.
The Canada-Honduras free trade agreement would benefit exporters from my home province of British Columbia through the elimination of Honduran tariffs in sectors of export interest, such as textiles, which currently face up to 15% tariffs; industrial machinery, also facing tariffs of up to 15%; and construction equipment, which would also see the elimination of current tariffs, which range up to 15%. Additionally, B.C.'s forestry sector stands to benefit with the elimination of tariffs, as wood and pulp and paper products currently face tariffs as high as 15%.
Seven of Canada's concluded free trade agreements are with countries in the Americas: Mexico, through NAFTA; Chile; Costa Rica; Peru; Colombia; Panama; and, of course, Honduras.
Our government recognizes the need to make companies aware of the advantages and opportunities that they create to maximize the mutual benefits flowing from these agreements. Our strategic push to liberalize trade with the Americas is working. We are removing barriers and facilitating two-way commerce.
The Americas offer great potential. Total trade between countries in the Americas and Canada, which was at $56 billion in 2012, has increased by 32% since 2007, and Canadian direct investment in the region, at $168 billion in 2012, has increased by 58% since 2007.
In order to continue to promote mutual economic opportunity, our government's strategy for engagement in the Americas focuses on intensifying trade promotion and relationship-building efforts to ensure that the Canadian private sector is taking full advantage of trade and economic agreements, as well as on building the capacity of our trading partners to capitalize on the benefits of free trade with Canada. The Canada-Americas trade-related technical assistance program, for example, serves to assist Canada's trade partners in Latin America and the Caribbean region to maximize the opportunities and benefits of increased trade and investment afforded them through their free trade agreements with Canada.
In line with our strategy, our Conservative government is committed to a strong economic partnership with Honduras that would contribute to enhanced prosperity and sustainable economic growth in both countries. For example, there are currently a number of development projects under way in Honduras which aim to improve food security, such as the Special Programme for Food Security.
The free trade agreement and its parallel agreements on labour and environmental co-operation would promote responsible commercial exchange while building a winning advantage for our companies, in particular in areas where Canada has experience an expertise, such as in natural resource management.
However, it is important to recall that prosperity and security are mutually reinforcing. To enable and protect Canadian trade and commercial investments, the security situation in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean must be taken into consideration, and it has rightly been made a focus in our strategy for engagement in the Americas. Recognizing the challenges to overcome for peace and prosperity in the region, Canada has committed over $70 million in security assistance to Central America since 2008, with $25 million announced in 2012 by the Prime Minister for the Canadian initiative for security in Central America. Through such investments, we are helping to strengthen security and institutions that safeguard freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Canada also works closely with the Central American integration system to improve donor coordination and security co-operation in Central America.
Honduras is also a country of focus for Canadian development programming, through which we are stimulating sustainable economic growth, increasing food security, and securing the future of children and youth. The Building Effective Justice Systems project, for example, contributes to the strengthening of the criminal justice system through training in crime scene examination, investigation, and oral trial techniques.
In a region where relationships are fundamental to success, long-term and multi-faceted engagement is a vital part of Canada's strategy for engagement in the Americas. Competition for market share is on the rise, and Canada must demonstrate that it is a serious and committed partner. The engagement of the Prime Minister, ministers, and Conservative members has been central to this effort.
While sustaining high-level engagement is essential, our government continues to build and strengthen relationships across the private sector, government, academia, civil society, and among individuals. Through our strong bilateral relationships and the increasing people-to-people networks generated through educational exchanges, increased tourism, and business links, our ties with Honduras are growing stronger every day, and we are seeing an increase in the opportunities for both countries.
The Canada-Honduras free trade agreement and the parallel labour and environmental co-operation agreements are key components to advance in Honduras the goals of Canada's strategy for engagement in the Americas. I ask all hon. members for their support.