Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak today to Bill C-24, the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act.
A few weeks ago, I took part in a parliamentary mission to Peru as part of the activities of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas. I had the opportunity to meet Peruvian parliamentarians, government representatives, representatives of the Canadian mining industry and people involved in international cooperation. I found that there were many potential affinities between the two countries and that it would be useful to develop ties with Peru.
But a red light went on in my head when the Peruvian parliamentarians invited us to take a close look at the contents of the agreement. It is a good thing to want to engage in trade and create wealth in both countries, but the Canadian government has decided to incorporate the equivalent of chapter 11 of NAFTA into this agreement. This chapter allows a company to sue a government if it is not satisfied with an application or a new law.
In this case, it is said that these regulatory or legislative amendments must be comparable to direct or indirect expropriation or a measure equivalent to expropriation.
We understand the Conservative government's rationale even better. I am somewhat surprised at the Liberals' position on this. The Conservative government wants to allow Canadian mining companies to operate in Peru with virtually no restrictions. They have financial power, and they are faced with a democratic country that wants to carve a place for itself, but does not have our abilities.
There is another argument. For example, if the Peruvian government were to decide to reorganize how the lands of the indigenous Quechua people are distributed and wanted to improve ownership for the indigenous people who have lived in Peru for centuries and were there even before the Spanish came, the agreement as written would allow a company to say that the government cannot do that without compensating it. That is a fact. I am not making anything up. NAFTA already has such a provision. The Canadian government itself, under the Liberals, was taken to court over its ban on MMT.
MMT is a gasoline additive, a known nerve toxin. The Canadian government had banned that additive. The American company went before the courts and won its case, and the Canadian government had to pay compensation to that company. That is the tail wagging the dog. Including a provision in an agreement like this one will simply ensure that republics like Peru stop putting forward protectionist measures because it could never compete with companies like we have in this country.
This visit was also an opportunity to realize how important it would be for such free trade agreements to follow consultations among parliamentarians from each country.
Had the parliamentarians in the House of Commons and their Peruvian counterparts had the chance to discuss before the drafting of the agreement between their two countries started, I think there would have been lessons to be learned and the agreement eventually signed would not have included such a provision.
It does not make much sense and does not reflect well on Canada's reputation. Canada signed an agreement with northern European countries. We supported that agreement which did not include a provision like chapter 11. These being developed countries, it was agreed that our countries would deal with one another as equals and that no increased powers would be given to companies. When signing bilateral agreements with developing countries, we take the liberty of creating a framework that is not in line with the will and development of each country.
During my visit to Peru I saw that that there was a will to change things. People also hoped that the agreement, which had been negotiated during economic good times, could survive the economic slowdown. Experts who made presentations warned us against the impacts of the agreement on agriculture in Peru and also in Quebec and Canada. The supply management system has been protected. It is not included in the agreement per se, which is a good thing, but the agriculture sector will continue to be treated as any other market sector. That is not good for the future of our agriculture and of the Peruvian agriculture.
I also had the opportunity to visit the beautiful village of Chincha Baja, which has suffered greatly from natural disasters, including an earthquake. CIDA has a house building project there. The village is on the fringe of Lima, the huge capital city with 8 million inhabitants, where we can see all levels of poverty and wealth. In the village's rural setting I could witness the importance of giving the agriculture sector in a country like Peru the opportunity to organize itself well enough to be able to access our market, but on a level playing field.
I was reminded of the situation in Africa. Some African countries produce cotton that is more expensive than the cotton they could import from the United States because of the subsidies the U.S.A. gives to its producers. Agricultural producers in Peru could find themselves in the same situation because we have a well structured agricultural sector and unions. Over the years, we have developed some tools that they do not necessarily have in Peru.
For this agreement to become acceptable, we would have to remove the clauses that are similar to NAFTA's chapter 11. Those clauses give excessive power to companies, which can sue governments if their operations are adversely affected. In this case, this is a serious matter, because we are talking about the mining sector. In Peru, Canadian companies are the main stakeholders in that sector. This agreement is going to give them more power, and that is dangerous. This comes at a time when the government itself refused to follow up on the round tables asking to adequately regulate the operations of extractive mining companies. We reached the point where a member of Parliament had to table a bill saying that the government's position was inadequate, and that we want something that reflects more closely what was proposed by the round tables. The Bloc Québécois also drafted a bill along those lines. Today, the Conservative government is going in the exact opposite direction. It is opening up the floodgates, so that mining companies can really do as they please.
Earlier, a Conservative member talked about the reputation of Canadian companies abroad. The vast majority of Canadian companies have a good reputation, but a number of them have really engaged in excessive things, and we should be able to discipline and control them. One way to do that would be to follow up on the recommendations made by the round tables. Another would be to at least ensure, in agreements such as the one before us, that we do not give them increased power, such as what the chapter similar to NAFTA's chapter 11 is going to give them.
Let us not forget that we are talking about a country that is a democracy and that is trying to move forward, but that is also experiencing difficult circumstances.The Sendero Luminoso organization, or Shining Path, is a terrorist group that is still active and that did things just last week. We must be very careful before going ahead with agreements that will exacerbate existing problems. We must provide more opportunities for these problems to subside and disappear, so that we have a much more rational and concrete reality that will achieve the desired results.
Why is the Bloc Québécois opposed to this agreement, not to mention the issue of investment protection?
Bilateral agreements often lead to agreements that put richer countries at an advantage over poorer countries. That is what is happening at this time. We would much rather see the development of multilateralism, in other words, a group of countries around the world that agree on conditions so that negotiations are more balanced. A group of developing countries could get together, thereby strengthening their bargaining power. There may be common interests shared by one developed country and one developing country that are not shared by other countries. Ultimately, this would allow for a much more balanced agreement.
A bilateral agreement like the one with Peru is not the most problematic; the one with Colombia is much more so. There are problems in Colombia related to a failure to recognize workers' rights and environmental rights. That is a part of daily life in Colombia, although it is not the case in Peru. But we hope to see that situation improve, rather than deteriorate.
The agreement signed by the Canadian government almost seems to suggest that the government is a corporation. It is looking solely at the economic advantages for Canadians in the short and medium term, but is not considering the impact it will have on the other country and is acting like an invader, which is not Canada's tradition. As members of the Bloc Québécois, we have a responsibility to hope these things will be corrected.
The problem is that a free trade agreement such as this cannot be changed. We must decide whether or not we will support it. It is an important issue. Naturally, we will debate it and show that we find it lacking. In the past, ancillary agreements have sometimes mitigated negative effects, but they do not have the same force. In this case, the agreement in its present form is unacceptable for the reasons I gave, especially on the issue of investments.
It is unfortunate because Peru is a country with abundant resources and a great deal of potential. It may not previously have developed the structures for distributing wealth such as we have in Quebec and Canada. During my stay, I was very surprised to see that it does not have any type of employment insurance or social welfare. The informal economy is very pervasive and there is no declaration of income or payment of taxes. There is barter, which does not contribute to collective wealth. Other practices should be developed in this regard.
If, in the future, we wish to sign agreements that foster globalization with a human face, they should contain provisions ensuring that both countries will agree, for example, that the developed country will help the developing country establish a better support system for the distribution of wealth and that it will provide the developing country with the expertise required to accumulate this wealth.
Peru's economic growth is presently in the order of 7% to 9%. This is a very good rate of growth that is closely tied to the mining sector. When the economy slows down, as it has in recent months, the situation becomes much more difficult. We are facing a very paradoxical situation. We are signing an agreement at a time of increased economic growth. Canadian firms and the Canadian market needed these resources, but now there is a slowdown and we find ourselves facing a new reality.
Peru, which depends heavily on exports, has signed numerous agreements of this kind. It has agreements with various countries. When I went there a few weeks ago, it was negotiating an agreement in principle with China, which wants to get natural resources by the same method. Obviously this aspect, the fact that the rules of the marketplace alone govern the situation, places an additional responsibility on the Canadian mining industry, which has a major presence there, to ensure that our corporations conduct themselves ethically and serve as a model.
This is the case for some corporations, but not for all corporations. For example, it is the case for junior mining companies that are most often involved in mining exploration. Often, the corporations do the mining themselves, but small companies that do not comply with the basic requirements are also tolerated by the system.
We would have liked to see Canada impose standards, in signing this kind of free trade agreement, that could then become a model. We hear that argument when we are being sold the free trade agreement, and we are told that with this kind of agreement we will have to fix the situation here at home. In fact, however, the provisions that govern investments and the right of corporations to bring suit will have the exact opposite effect. It will give corporations more power in relation to governments, which certainly need to be on firmer footing and be in more control.
We have seen this in Quebec. There is nothing new under the sun. Fifty or 60 years ago, as the members from Lac-Saint-Jean and the North Shore know, we frequently made very major concessions to attract businesses. It took years to try to fix that situation, and even today we can see that when companies are sold, these kinds of concessions are still being made.
They did it when Alcan was sold to Rio Tinto under secret agreements, under a Canadian law that lacked the teeth to impose conditions regarding employment. In any case, the Conservative government did not want to.
As regards Peru, a country I visited very briefly, I tell myself it should be given an opportunity to avoid this type of situation, rather than increase the risk of the same thing happening.
It was the same for trade with Costa Rica. In the present matter, even if trade between Quebec and Peru and Canada and Peru were possible and substantial, there are businesses on location there, and also some international cooperation. However, following my meetings with various international cooperation NGOs, I note that they are very careful to ensure a clear distinction between purely capitalist market-oriented companies—such as the mining sector—and aid to communities, so that no link between the two can take away their independence of action.
The Canadian government is no example. We saw it remove some countries in Africa from its aid list, in order to do business with Peru and Colombia.
Does that mean that Peru and Colombia do not need aid? No. We agree, and, in any case, the Canadian government could have done more in the area of international aid. What is unacceptable is taking aid away from Africa, which is desperate for it, in order to turn a policy of international cooperation into a policy of support for economic development rather than a true policy on international aid. The Canadian government is acting as if it managed a private company rather than a government. I do not think Canadians and Quebeckers expect this type of behaviour from their government.
I will conclude my remarks on this point. Peru is a country that deserves solid cooperation. This free trade agreement will not do it. And because the agreement as such cannot be amended during negotiations, the Bloc prefers to vote against the bill for a free trade agreement with Peru, even if it means calling on the government to redo its work to ensure that the rules of the game are clear and will benefit both countries involved—both Peru, a developing country, and Canada and Quebec.