Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be in the House this evening with the opportunity to speak to Bill C-20, an act to implement the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Honduras, and to the other agreements on environmental co-operation and labour co-operation as well.
By way of starting, let me provide a little context for this discussion, taking it away from Honduras and this specific agreement to talk about the broader trade agenda and trade record of the government.
When the Conservatives came into power in 2006, they were spotted an $18 billion current account surplus. That is to say that trade was enriching us as a country, setting aside for the moment the issue of the equity of the distribution of that account surplus. It was indeed a surplus to the tune of $18 billion, no paltry sum.
Today, eight years on, under the Conservative government, we have a current account deficit of $62 billion. That leaves us with a nice round swing number of $80 billion as the negative swing, the delta, the loss, whatever one wants to call it. Part of the problem here is that we are trading raw or barely processed exports, reducing the importance of value-added exports in this trading mix.
Clearly, the government, with its sole, exclusive focus on the export of resources, is causing economic challenges for us in Canada.
I recently had the occasion, as the chair of the Canada-Bangladesh Parliamentary Friendship Group, to talk at the University of Ottawa on development issues for Bangladesh specifically.
The panel invited to speak at the invitation of its His Excellency Kamrul Ahsan was made up of experts with various backgrounds and specialities. It gave me cause to look closely at the trading relationship between Canada and Bangladesh. It would seem to be fairly typical of what is going on with Canada's trading regime. It is not a particularly huge trading relationship, with just over $1 billion worth of goods coming in from Bangladesh and about half of that going out of Canada destined for that country.
What is noticeable is that, apart from a couple of helicopters, Bangladesh is sending to us value-added goods, mainly in the form of garments, but that is not to ignore the development of their own shipbuilding industry and a flourishing pharmaceutical industry. In return, we send them natural resources and unprocessed agricultural products.
It is interesting to note that Honduras has a trade account deficit, but it seems that Canada would be one of the countries with which it has a trade account surplus.
This kind of dismal trading record, established under the government, earns one special recognition. Between 2006 and 2012, Canada had the worst current account deficit when we compared our trading performance against 17 similar countries around the world.
Before the optimists leap to the thought that maybe we have reached the bottom, that the bleeding has stopped and things are on the mend, let me advise that in 23 of the last 24 months, we have experienced a merchandise trade deficit. It brings to mind the definition of madness put forward by, I think, Einstein: to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
That is what we are seeing with the government, tonight and when we discuss trade agreements, talking about how many of these agreements it has signed. Here we go again with Bill C-20.
Contrary to the 14-second soundbites that come from across the floor, we are not anti-trade over here. That would be to take an ideological position and eschew all practical considerations and objectives. That is not what we are about.
That is what those guys do over there, and what the Liberals do, too, as we have seen tonight, although they like to confuse it by saying that they are concerned. They seem to think that free trade agreements are something like hockey cards or some other kind of collectable, and we should just keep signing them and then make triumphant noises, and then collect another one as though that was the end in itself. Never mind that with each one they sign, the current account deficit seems to actually deepen.
The Conservatives do not even read them first. The content does not seem to matter either. The outcome does not seem to matter. Nothing seems to matter, other than getting one signed.
In the grandest farce of all, we have had multiple announcements of the agreement on the comprehensive economic trade agreement with the European Union. The government just could not wait to announce that one; it said there were just details, i's and t's to be crossed and dotted.
The leader of the third party leapt out of his seat enthusiastically at the news to express his admiration and support for the government landing the deal. Nobody on this side of the House, the Liberal leader included, has even read the deal to be able to determine whether or not it is a good deal, worthy of celebration, a deal that might enrich Canada and Canadians. The irony is not lost on us that we have the Liberals tonight calling to see the Honduran deal when they celebrated the European deal sight unseen.
There is a simple reason for all of this. There is no deal. The Conservatives made an announcement about nothing, and the Liberals applauded them and congratulated them heartily upon their announcement of a deal that does not exist.
Word is that our Prime Minister is scrambling furiously over in Europe now, trying to rescue a deal, but we wish him well in securing a deal that would serve Canada and Canadians well. That, after all, would be the only point of such a trade deal, would it not? That is actually a real and open question. We know the answer from the Conservatives and the Liberals. They have answered by way of their actions, their embrace of a deal that is more phantom than real, a deal they have not read because it does not actually exist.
That is the simplistic, ideological reflex of those parties, both the Conservatives and the Liberals, the reflex that Einstein called madness, the reflex that sees a $62 billion current account deficit, more dollars leaving this country through trade than coming in, the reflex that takes us back to a time we were trying to grow out of, the time when we did what was easiest, the time when we did what the rest of the world wanted us to do: just dig it up and ship it out, rip it and ship it, as we say, or grow it and throw it. In support of all of that, of course, they cite an economist born in 1772 as support for this ideological reflex they have.
Therefore, it is time for a change, time for a more thoughtful, purposeful look at trade and what it ought to do for Canada, a look at our objectives. It is time for a look at trade that is sufficiently nuanced to be able to distinguish between partners and the kinds of agreements that are suitable for different trading partnerships.
The comprehensive economic trade agreement may be a template suitable for a large, sophisticated, and developed market like the European Union. We do not know that. We will see whether it serves us well when we get a chance to read it, if we ever do, but that same agreement may not serve as a particularly useful template for a trading agreement with Honduras. Indeed, a trading relationship with Honduras may not even be the appropriate way to engage with Honduras.
Our party believes that there are three fundamentally important criteria for assessing a trade agreement. One, is the proposed partner one that respects democracy and human rights, and does it have adequate environmental and labour standards? If the answer is not clearly yes, then the question becomes this. Is the proposed partner on a positive trajectory towards those goals, at least? Second, is the proposed partner's economy of significance or strategic value to Canada? Finally, if the answer to that strategic question is yes, then the question becomes very much a practical one. Are the terms of the proposed agreement satisfactory? In other words, did we get a good deal? Will Canada benefit from this agreement? Against these assessment criteria, Bill C-20 runs into problems right off the bat.
Let me turn now to have a closer look at Honduras. Let us see not just who we are doing business with, but who it is that we are actually proposing to treat preferentially through the passage of the bill.
If we look at the first criterion, on the issue of democracy or respect for democratic rights, we know that the democratically elected government of President Zelaya was toppled by a military coup in 2009, which was widely condemned around the world, including by all Latin American nations, the European Union, the United States, and the UN General Assembly. We know that 94 members of the U.S. Congress have called upon the U.S. Department of State to halt all military aid to Honduras in light of its violent repression of political activity.
If we go to the Economist Intelligence Unit and its report on Honduras, its 2013 Democracy Index ranks Honduras 85th out of 160 countries, which represents no change from the 2012 index. It remains, as my colleague for Toronto—Danforth said earlier in his speech, a “hybrid” regime. That score reflects deficiencies in most categories, “... owing to its low level of institutional development, a weak judiciary, high levels of corruption...and unabated drug- and gang-related violence...”. That is a quote from the Economist Intelligence Unit country report on Honduras.
If we go to other sources, such as the Human Rights Watch, we see that in December 2012 the Honduran Congress arbitrarily dismissed four Supreme Court judges and passed further legislation empowering itself to remove justices and the Attorney General. Again, in November 2011, the Congress passed an emergency decree allowing military personnel to carry out public security duties, which has since been extended. This is the so-called trade by rule of law where Supreme Court justices get dismissed, just like that.
Now all of this spills over into issues plainly of human rights. The Human Rights Watch report on Honduras, as part of the World Report, begins with the sentence: “Honduras suffers from rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses”. That is where we start, with that report.
Others, including Tasleem Thawar, executive director of PEN Canada, actually gave testimony at the Standing Committee on International Trade on April 10, 2014, which was not too long ago. She said:
...not only have Honduran institutions failed at protecting basic human rights for its citizens; there is a history of government involvement in these human rights abuses. Our research shows that the state not only failed to investigate crimes against journalists; in many cases state actors were themselves complicit in these crimes.
Again, from the Human Rights Watch 2014 report:
Journalists, peasant activists, and LGBTI individuals are particularly vulnerable to attacks, yet the government routinely fails to prosecute those responsible and provide protection for those at risk.
It goes on to say that:
Impunity for serious police abuses is a chronic problem. Police killed 149 civilians from January 2011 to November 2012, including 18 individuals under age 19....
...a May 2013 investigation...suggested police involvement in at least five extrajudicial executions or disappearances...
...more than 90 LGBTI people were killed between 2009 and 2012, and many more subjected to attacks and harassment. The alleged involvement of Honduran police in some of these violent abuses is of particular concern.
All of that is out of the Human Rights Watch report from 2014.
On the issues of environment and labour, I have to express deep skepticism about these co-operation agreements based on some recent inquiries that I made in the form of questions on the order paper.
The Department of Public Works and Government Services advertises the fact that it has a policy to ensure that the goods the department procures are manufactured in compliance with local labour laws, so I asked the minister whether the department procures garments from foreign markets and, if so, from where. The answer is that the government procures garments from around the world, including China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and indeed Honduras.
I also asked if the departments knew what factories these garments are made in. The answer came back from every department, “no”, with the exception of public works, which said that it was third-party information.
They disavowed knowledge of where these garments were made, rendering the government's policy absolutely impossible to implement and making a mockery of the whole policy and the whole exercise, and this paper social responsibility exercise is perpetrated by our own federal government on these issues. Now we are asked to look at so-called labour and environmental co-operation agreements and find some sense of satisfaction and comfort in those.
My immediate interest in asking these questions had to do with the collapse of the Rana Plaza building that housed a number of garment factories in Bangladesh. That collapse killed 1,135 workers and injured another 2,500, adding to the long column of tragedies, deaths, and injuries in the garment industry.
However, at least in Bangladesh there is broad agreement that the employment laws and the labour laws and the building code are decently formulated laws and that if they are properly implemented in the future, they would provide protection to workers.
Not so in Honduras. According to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, Honduran trade unionists are routinely threatened, intimidated, harassed, and even murdered for attempting to form unions, and criminals are rarely brought to justice. Since the 2009 coup, 31 trade unionists have been assassinated and more than 200 injured in violent attacks.
It is worth noting that in response to other questions on the order paper, the minister for public works responded that they have done no audits for compliance with local labour laws because they had no information to warrant such audits. Never mind the factory collapsing and killing 1,135 people. Never mind the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center having the basic facts of intimidation and assassinations of trade unionists right on its website. All of that should trigger some interest in whether government-procured garments are actually being made in compliance with local labour laws.
Mr. Speaker, how much time do I have left? Two minutes. I see the House leader finds that funny. He has a strange sense of humour, as we have noted over the last three years.
Let me skip to my conclusion, because I do not want to miss that.
Clearly, when one looks through the criteria that our party has spelled out for assessing whether a country qualifies for preferential trading treatment, we can see that Honduras fails quickly and does not qualify. It is worth noting that even if it did not fail on the first grounds, it fails on the second grounds, which have to do with the significance of the economy or the strategic value of an agreement in providing a preferential trading relationship with the country. Honduras is currently Canada's 104th export market in terms of value of exports.
Over the 2007-2012 period, annual Canadian exports to Honduras averaged just $50 million and annual Canadian imports from Honduras averaged $161 million. From the current account deficit, we see that we cannot manage even an equal trading relationship with Honduras under this government. Even internal DFAIT analyses confirm that only marginal benefits to the Canadian economy are expected from the deal. There is in fact nothing to recommend this bill.
It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that the passage of the bill would be a benign act. Let me finish with a quote from Stacey Gomez, the coordinator of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. She says:
We have long maintained that under the right conditions, trade can generate growth and support the realization of human rights. These conditions simply do not exist in Honduras. Canada should refrain from signing the FTA with Honduras until there is a verifiable improvement in the country’s democratic governance and human rights situation. Until these things are achieved, the Canada-Honduras FTA will do more harm than good.
This bill represents an ethically bankrupt notion of relationships and engagement. It is nothing other than an ideological reflex unpackaged. It suggests that free trade, that is trade with no meaningful conditionality, somehow in and of itself alleviates instead of exploits corruption and poverty, that somehow it will build government capacity instead of exploiting its absence, and that business, in the absence of labour law, will voluntarily leave surplus behind in Honduras, helping social and economic progress in Honduras. Of course, we do not believe that any of that is true.