Mr. Speaker, we are here this morning to debate Bill C-46, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.
The Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this bill for a number of reasons. First, this is a bilateral agreement, which the Bloc Québécois believes is ineffective. We believe that a multilateral agreement would be more effective in developing much fairer trade that respects the interests of all of the nations.
The Conservative government has decided to drop the multilateral approach to trade and is entering into many negotiations to sign bilateral agreements. There have not been any studies done by officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade or at Industry Canada to help us determine whether these bilateral agreements would be beneficial to our economy. Regardless of whether these agreements are good or not, they seem advantageous, so the Conservatives and the Liberals are jumping at them. They are jumping into other bilateral negotiations before conducting any studies.
If we do not know that we will come out a winner by signing a bilateral agreement, we should not move forward. For example, the Conservative government plans on signing a bilateral agreement with China. In 2005, Canada imported $32 billion worth of Chinese products, which generated a trade deficit in Canada of $26 billion, or $1,000 per capita. When trade with a country generates five times more imports than exports, the main priority should be to balance the terms of trade and not to make them even more liberal.
The Bloc Québécois will not support these bilateral agreements until we receive a guarantee or can be convinced that they will benefit the Quebec economy.
We are told that Panama is the most industrialized country in Central America and it has the highest economic indicators in the region. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian exports to Panama consist mainly of finished products, such as machine tools, automobiles, electronic and electrical equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canada also exports financial, engineering and professional services, as well as information technology and communications services.
Canadian direct investments in Panama are made mainly in the banking, financial, construction and mining sectors. Every time the Conservative government comes forward with a bilateral free trade agreement, it always includes mining.
Our primary imports from Panama are metals—mostly gold—precious stones, fruit, exotic nuts, fish and seafood.
The free trade agreement between Canada and Panama will have an impact on our country. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this deal includes eliminating Panamanian tariffs on many Canadian products.
This means that our businesses will be able to invest in Panama without any tariff restrictions. Thus, Panama will eliminate all tariffs on non-agricultural products.
The Canadian exports that should benefit the most from these concessions are fish and seafood products, construction materials and equipments, frozen potato products, pulses, beef and beef products, most pork products, malt, forest products, and flight simulation and training equipment. So far, so good.
Canada, for its part, will eliminate 99% of its tariffs on products from Panama, except certain sugar products and products under supply management, of course.
The federal government wants to ratify this agreement very quickly because, so it says, it wants to get ahead of the United States and the European Union, which have both signed similar agreements but have a much longer ratification process.
The problem for us is that Panama is a tax haven. I would remind the House about a certain prime minister a few years ago who had interests in Canada Steamship Lines and who managed to get some deals ratified with known tax havens, including a deal with Barbados, which he just slipped through right under our noses. Panama is also part of this group of countries that are known tax havens. It is even on the OECD's grey list.
The OECD uses four criteria to determine whether a country should be placed on its grey list of tax havens: no or only nominal taxation; lack of transparency; laws or administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information; and indications that the country is attempting to attract investments that are tax-driven and do not involve economic activity.
One of the things that stands out for me is the fact that there is no or only nominal taxation. I have nothing against our corporations doing business. However, I do have a problem with the fact that, because of a lack of transparency, corporations cannot say how much money they make there and do not repatriate the money. As for laws and administrative practices that prevent the exchange of information, it seems to me that I have seen this before. I am currently a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are coming to realize that the government is using the excuse that it must protect confidential information to withhold information about money, for example about the freeze on budget envelopes, or about what it is doing with the money. It is very annoying. It means that Canadians cannot find out what is being done with their taxes, and government officials cannot determine how much profit has been made in other countries. This issue of laws or administrative practices that prevent the effective exchange of information is tiresome.
Then there are the indications that the country attracts investments that are solely tax-driven and to not involve economic activity. We must remember that, in some countries, certain Canadian corporations have a dismal record when it comes to mining, among other activities. How will we ask questions to obtain information about what is happening? This is a problem for the Bloc Québécois.
Furthermore, the right-wing government has passed a repressive bill that, in theory, could criminalize workers. It has agreed to review the law but we are not sure that it will do so.
In short, the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill.
We do not know enough about it, and there are not enough guarantees and safeguards. It is a bilateral agreement that completely ignores human considerations and does not demonstrate the openness that should be the hallmark of such agreements.