Madam Speaker, first, I must talk about the amendments proposed by my colleague. He is asking that numerous clauses be deleted, yet he said that they are key clauses. Frankly, that is a problem.
He is asking that clause 7 be deleted, but that clause sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, I think that poses a bit of a problem. He is also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions. Without these kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.
He is also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering this bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. I know that those topics are extremely important to my colleague. In addition, he is asking that clause 63 be deleted, but that contains the coming into force provision. Without these clauses, there is no bill, and frankly, I feel that my colleague is playing games here in the House. We have already discussed these issues in committee.
I will now say that we will not support the amendments, and I would like to take a bit more time to talk about the bill, as currently drafted.
I just briefly explained why we do not support the amendments proposed by my colleague. In effect, they were already proposed and dealt with in committee, and were they to be put into effect they would effectively destroy the bill. As much as I respect my colleague, I find this a bit of an abuse of time in the House of Commons; it really is playing games. I would rather we dealt with the substance of the legislation, the implementation of a free trade agreement with Panama. I am pleased to say that the Liberal Party is in support of this particular bill.
I will provide members with some statistics. In 2008, Panama had one of the highest real GDP growth rates in the Americas, at 10.7%. Despite the global economic downturn, Panama posted positive growth in 2009, at 2.4%, a trend that was expected to continue in 2010. We await confirmation of those numbers.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently under way and slated to be completed by 2014, at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. This expansion alone is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in such areas as infrastructure and construction, as well as environmental, heavy engineering and consulting services, capital projects, human capital development and construction materials. Like the free trade agreements between Canada, Chile and Costa Rica, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the free trade agreement proposed with Jordan but not yet ratified for a number of reasons, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour cooperation and the environment.
Panama is indeed a relatively small economy. We would prefer that Canada were able to pursue multilateral trade negotiations through the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, those negotiations have come to an effective standstill. We do support the efforts to engage in negotiations for bilateral trade agreements, including with Panama.
Although Panama is a relatively small economy, in 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to that country, which maybe is not as much as to some trading partners, but it is fairly significant for those enterprises, the agricultural, agrifood, construction, and a variety of other sectors in that country. The $90 million is a significant amount of business, and this trade deal stands to significantly increase that figure.
Panama is also a stable country that has made significant progress in recent years in development and democracy, which Canada is well placed to continue to encourage. This is a significant aspect of our trade philosophy.
Freer trade encourages a freer flow of information and a freer flow of ideas. Rather than building walls, freer trade opens windows through which light comes through, and opens doors through which Canadians can engage on all sorts of levels with others. If we isolate countries, our capacity to engage on human rights or to discuss issues, such as the one we and others have raised today, the issue of tax havens, we only reduce our ability to engage with and help those countries improve.
Panama has engaged in significant efforts through the OECD to enhance its activities and its reputation internationally. I believe we stand in a very good position to encourage rather than discourage that effort.
We support this bill. Despite concerns about the current lack of a double taxation treaty and a tax information exchange agreement between Canada and Panama, we should support this bill.
I want to emphasize the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have already begun to work on a tax agreement. Panama has asked that we implement an agreement to avoid double taxation, while Canada would prefer an agreement about exchanging tax information. However, the two governments are in talks to set up a tax agreement.
Although there have been some concerns raised about the suggestion that Panama acts as or provides a tax haven and money-laundering opportunities, the Government of Panama and the Government of Canada have worked very hard so far to establish an agreement on the exchange of tax information.
In the first instance, Panama asked Canada to enter into an agreement to eliminate double taxation. Canada responded by asking instead for an agreement on the exchange of information with regard to taxes. Panama came back and said no. It said that it would prefer a double tax treaty. It should be stressed that the traditional OECD model of a tax treaty, which is the one Canada always signs, has a full article dealing with the exchange of tax information.
We support the bill for two reasons. First, it would provide significant improvements to opportunities for Canadian enterprises and therefore encourage Canadian jobs. Second, because Panama does not have a trade agreement right now with the United States, we heard a number of witnesses at committee stress how the United States is worried about Canada signing this deal because of the significant competitive advantage that it will provide to those very Canadian enterprises. I will include agriculture, agri-food and construction. Earlier in my speech, I outlined a number of the areas in which we would stand to benefit.
That significant competitive advantage for Canadian enterprises, given the lack of a similar agreement so far with the Americans, given the pressure on the American government to sign such an agreement and given the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have been working toward a tax agreement of one kind or another that would provide information on the exchange of tax information, has strongly provided the basis for our support of this bill and for the conclusion and ratification of the free trade agreement with Panama.