Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this issue once again.
I am a member of the international trade committee. This bill has been before the House. We have had an opportunity to listen to stakeholders. At the end, we concluded that this was a good agreement for Canada and was one that we should pursue. That is why I will be speaking in support of this bill.
Given that Canada is a trading nation, I believe it is in our interest to do so. We have launched a series of trade agreements with a variety of countries that have been very successful for many businesses in Canada.
We recognize that Panama, compared to the giants of Latin America, is a small player, but this is a strategic place and partner that has great potential for the future. There are important opportunities there for growth between the north and south. The Panama Canal is a gateway that will undergo a massive expansion and could be an opportunity for Canadian businesses. We hope, through this initiative, dialogue and agreements, that there will be business opportunities between both countries. There would be different projects going on underground on which hopefully businesses could bid successfully. We have this opportunity.
As I said, the trade is relatively small, at about $100 million, but it has potential to grow. As well, these are significant steps in relation to tying things up, country by country, in the Americas.
My hon. colleague spoke about Mercosur, which is a large bloc in South America that includes Brazil, the dominant player there, Argentina and other regional players such as Uruguay, Paraguay and now Venezuela. It is a market that we have to get into. This is a market that we would eventually have a trade agreement with, similar to the agreement we are in the process of with the European Union. It is a complex process, but one that is necessary to engage in because the European Union is an equally important bloc on which we have to concentrate.
As we all know, trade for Canada is predominantly with the U.S. at over 80%. We have to diversify the treaty relationships we have with other countries around the world. This offers us an opportunity. Strategically it makes sense, given the major projects in the canal as well as the strategic importance of Panama.
Panama has made some strives over the years. It went through a very difficult time during the Noriega regime and afterwards. The 1980s was a difficult period, but it has made a transformative presence on the world stage. It is a stable democracy. It is a major player in the Organization of American States, of which Canada is a player, and this is a very positive thing. It is a country that has been providing stability for the region. Panama is a player that we want to engage bilaterally and through this agreement.
It is important to note that this agreement has very important side agreements on issues of labour and the environment. On the labour issue, my colleague spoke of corporate social responsibility, which I feel strongly about, and that needs to be done. In some ways this elevates the discussion and brings the focus not just on trade agreements, but labour rights and human rights issues, as they are equally important. We did that with the Colombian free trade agreement. There was a very important agreement on a human rights review. That was an historical step in terms of a trade agreement.
Although we are not anywhere near where we want to be in terms of corporate social responsibility, we are beginning to realize that it cannot be ignored and it has to be addressed in our trade agreements, bilateral agreements and discussions. We want to make sure that Canadian businesses are conducting themselves ethically abroad. By and large, I think they are but Canada can play a major role as a leader for the rest of the world in the fields of human rights and corporate social responsibility. This has to be the issue for the future.
Getting back to the agreement, it covers such issues as the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, among other things. I am very supportive of such an agreement that recognizes that when entering arrangements like free trade agreements, labour rights must be protected and encouraged. This is a positive outcome of this particular agreement.
In terms of potential business for Canadian companies, the opportunities, although presently small, have considerable room for growth. Canadian business provides a wide range of products, including vehicles, pharmaceutical equipment and machinery, among other things, but the opportunity for growth exists. Certainly it exists in the financial sector. We have major players in the Americas, such as Scotiabank, which has been carrying the flag of Canada. It plays a major role in the financial sector throughout Latin America and, of course, it is a major player in Canada as well.
As for the services provided by Canadian companies in the financial, engineering and communications sectors, there can also be an opportunity for growth.
Some concerns have been raised about the free trade agreements. I know there have been issues raised in committee in relation to the banking regulations in place in Panama with regard to money laundering. This is a big issue and the government needs to take it very seriously. It is a challenge that other countries face when they have tax-free havens, including some in Europe. This needs to be addressed.
The thrust of this agreement is one of economic support and solidarity between two countries that are important allies and provides stability in that region.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, Canada is a trading nation and responsible sound trade agreements are in the interest of Canada and are good for Canada. I think most Canadians would agree that we cannot act in isolation. This is the time for us to engage the world.
We are all aware that the discussions in Doha have not gone very well. Given that those discussions have not gone well, countries like Canada have engaged in bilateral agreements. There are those who would challenge the wisdom of that and whether the agreements should be multilateral or bilateral, but at the end of the day we have to move forward because the discussions have not been very meaningful or conclusive thus far. We cannot stand back while other countries sign agreements.
As I mentioned, Brazil is a huge player in that area. It is a country of 170 million people with a $2.2 trillion budget that keeps on growing. Our engagement in Panama further links us to the markets in South America, such as Brazil and other players.
The GDP of Panama is $44 billion. As I mentioned, the amount of trade we do with it is small, about $100 million, but it is nothing that we can dismiss as there are strategic interests for Canada.
I would be pleased to support this agreement. It is fairly good for Canada and Panama and offers the opportunity for mutual benefits, increased trade and co-operation in years to come. This is the essence of good trading relationships and good trade agreements.