Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his graciousness in welcoming me as his new critic for international trade.
I rise to speak today in support of 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, and to having it reviewed at committee.
I am pleased to participate in a debate that, unusually for this House in recent times, should be relatively free of heated partisan rhetoric. As the representative of the official opposition, we support the passing of this bill for many of the same reasons that members sitting on the government's side of the House support it.
Indeed, this is the second time in only three days that we have had this opportunity. It mirrors our recent debate on similar trade agreements with Jordan, which have now been referred to committee. We should take advantage of these opportunities to agree when they come along, as they so rarely do.
However, I will also be raising some concerns about the government's lack of action on increasing U.S. protectionism and its failure to seize trade opportunities in China, South Korea, and other countries.
Canada is now experiencing the first trade deficits it has seen in 30 years. Indeed, the country set a trade-deficit record this July, $2.7 billion. Something is going seriously wrong and we must challenge the government hard on why this is and what we can do about it.
I will also mention that, although we in the Liberal Party want to see even harder work on multilateral trade negotiations, we also recognize the practicalities and challenges this task entails. In the absence of progress on the multilateral level, we in the Liberal Party encourage Canada to work at the bilateral level to enhance our trade with as many other countries as possible.
Canada is a nation that supports free trade. Our origins are those of a trading nation, starting with fur, wood, and other natural resources. The portion of our economic activity attributable to trade is greater than that of most other nations. Indeed, 80% of our economy and millions of Canadian jobs depend upon trade and our ability to access foreign markets.
Canadian exporters benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs on their goods destined for other countries. Canadian manufacturers benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs at the Canadian border of the various materials that go into their products. Canadian consumers benefit from lower prices of imported goods when tariffs on those goods are reduced or eliminated.
Although there will always be debate about protectionism and what steps best promote Canadian business success and generate Canadian jobs, most Canadian businesses that serve domestic markets benefit from free trade in being forced to innovate and compete with others from abroad, provided that those abroad comply with international rules on trade, tariffs, and non-tariff barriers.
In the long run, Canadian businesses are more than capable of being strong, innovative, and competitive without hiding behind protectionist walls.
I am proud to rise here today to take part in this debate and show my support, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, for 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 Conservative government's mismanagement of Canada's trade relations has led to the first trade deficits we have seen in over 30 years. We need to increase our efforts and our engagement in order to improve the situation and increase international trade between Canada and other countries around the world.
Canada depends on trade. It is worth noting that 80% of our economy relies on access to export markets. The Liberal Party supports the principle of free trade, and it also supports any initiatives that will improve access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses. Although Panama has a small economy and Canada's existing trade with that country is relatively limited, there are opportunities for Canadian businesses.
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 is expected to continue in 2010.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently under way and is slated to be completed by 2014 at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. This expansion 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 with Jordan, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement recognizes both countries’ obligations under the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which requires both countries to ensure that laws, regulations and national practices protect the following rights: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced labour and the elimination of discrimination.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement and the agreement on the environment both include complaints and dispute resolution processes that enable members of the public to request an investigation into perceived failures of Canada or Panama to comply with these agreements.
The free trade agreement with Panama is another opportunity to increase access to more markets for Canadian farmers and business.
Yes, Panama is a relatively small economy. In 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to the country, which is not as large as with some trading partners. It is, however, a stable country which has made significant progress in recent years in terms of development and democracy, which Canada is well-placed to continue to encourage.
In spite of the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP grew at 10.7% in 2008, one of the highest in the Americas, and is forecast at 5.6% for 2010. In 2009 bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million, Canadian exports making up $91.4 million of that and imports, $40.7 million.
Primary Canadian merchandise exports to Panama include machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canadian service exports include financial services, engineering, information and communications technology services. Merchandise imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, mainly gold, fruits and nuts, fish and seafood products.
The existing Panama Canal, vital for the international trading system, is undergoing a massive expansion, with completion slated for 2014. The $5.3 billion expansion is already generating business for Canadian companies in construction, environmental, engineering and consulting services, capital projects and more, and is expected to generate even more over the next while, helped by this free trade agreement.
Canada will immediately eliminate over 99% of its tariffs on current imports from Panama.
The free trade agreement also addresses non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods, promoting good regulatory practices, transparency and the use of international standards.
On labour and environment, like most of Canada's free trade agreements, this free trade agreement includes agreements on the environment and labour co-operation that will help promote sustainability and protect labour rights. The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement recognizes both countries' obligations under the International Labour Organization, the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including the protection of the following rights: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination.
Both the labour co-operation agreement and the agreement on the environment include complaints and dispute resolution processes that enable members of the public to request an investigation to perceived failures of either Canada or Panama to comply with these agreements.
I have a few words on human rights.
Although it is not the issue here, as it was in the debate over free trade with Colombia, the question of human rights will always come up in the House when we debate free trade agreements, and rightly so, sometimes more than others. As I have said in the House a number of times, it is a good thing that Canadian members of Parliament are concerned about international human rights and I have noted that, regardless of what party we sit for, we all want full human rights for everyone around the world.
We do, however, from time to time disagree on what Canada can do to further that goal. Some of my colleagues will say that putting up walls and preventing more open trade and engagement will somehow help, that somehow, Canada wagging its finger at other states rather than fully engaging will miraculously be listened to. I am afraid that that is not how the world works.
Freer trade encourages freer flow of information and freer flows of ideas. Rather than building walls, freer trade opens windows through which light gets in and opens doors through which Canadians can engage on all sorts of levels with others. If we isolate a country, our capacity to engage in human rights is in fact reduced.
Economic engagement increases our ability to engage in other areas, such as education and culture. All of that engagement increases the capacity to engage in the area of human rights. It gives Canadians a greater opportunity, through businesspeople, customers, clients and other engagements that can flow from those relationships, to show by example, not in a paternalistic, finger-wagging, we-know-best attitude, but rather showing by examples how things work so well for us in Canada and our willingness to share, on a friendly basis, those examples.
As I have said many times, it is the citizens of a particular state who are responsible for improvements in their state, not Canada. Canadians have a wonderful opportunity to engage with those citizens, in exposing what works in other parts of the world, in particular here, where we are proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our successfully pluralistic society and our peace, order and good government approach to governance.
Although we do not have the heightened level of concern with respect to Panama as we had with Colombia, I will take the opportunity to commend my Liberal colleague, the member for Kings—Hants, my predecessor in the role of critic for international trade, for the excellent work he did with the human rights amendment to the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Under that Liberal-negotiated deal, Canada and Colombia must publicly measure the impact to free trade on human rights in both countries, the first trade deal in the world that requires ongoing human rights impact assessments. Again, I commend my colleague from Kings—Hants for his excellent work in this regard.
All of this goes to my support and my party's support for Bill C-46 and the free trade agreement with Panama. Greater economic engagement helps us all economically, for more jobs and more prosperity for Canada, yes, but for both countries, and free trade is, in this case, a win-win opportunity.
At this point, however, I wish to highlight some real concerns about the Conservative government's approach to international trade. We are losing the concept of free trade with our biggest trading partner to the south, the United States. When the recession hit, the United States government responded with protectionism, in putting forth its buy American policies and tighter rules. The Conservative government initially stood by watching, as if it did not know what hit it. It engaged in photo ops in Washington, not realizing the battle needed to be fought all across the states, at the state level.
By the time a so-called exemption was worked out, which in and of itself required significant concessions by Canadian provinces, the protectionism in the United States had already hurt many Canadian businesses, costing Canadian jobs. Even the so-called exemption only covers 37 states, a great example of how it is not just Washington that must be engaged.
Despite our vociferous efforts to get the Conservative government to engage much more forcefully at the state level, the government just did not seem to understand either the whats of the negative effects on Canadian business, or the hows of fixing the problem, and here we are again. The United States is threatening more protectionist legislation, the foreign manufacturers legal accountability act, which although not technically aimed at Canada, would significantly hurt many Canadian businesses and affect many Canadian jobs.
However, the minister's response was no action whatsoever. Instead he says, "Gee, it's too bad, we're always collateral damage in the battles between the United States and China”. Then he says, “We're hoping that it does not reach the vote state before the U.S. elections”. Then he says, “If it passes, we'll probably seek an exemption for Canadian companies”.
With all respect, it simply is not enough to dismiss Canada as collateral damage, or to merely hope that protectionist legislation will not pass. Just like last time, we urge the government to get its hands dirty, to get on the ground, not only in Washington but across the states, to ensure that Canada is exempted from this very damaging proposed legislation before it happens. Canadian businesses need something done to prevent this from happening, not just some vague hopes and prayers.
I also want to use this opportunity in the debate on the merits of free trade to exhort the government to do much more in its dealings with China, South Korea and others. I acknowledge the announcement and production of the report this last week between Canada and India, and I am encouraged this as moving in the right direction. However, having just returned from China and Korea, I am overwhelmed by the growth, the size, the pace and the scale of what is happening over there. At the same time, I am dismayed by how little the Canadian government is doing to capitalize on the extraordinary growth and scale that presents such fantastic opportunities for so many Canadians.
There are incredible investments being made in infrastructure, water, sewage treatment and public transit. We have been told repeatedly by the Chinese that they are looking for green technology, for forestry products, for investments in the financial services industries. There are tremendous opportunities for trade in educational services, in co-operation and engagement not just at the Canada-China level, but provincially and municipally. My colleagues should understand that I do not suggest for a minute that the federal government impinge upon those jurisdictions, but rather stress that we in Canada could work much more co-operatively and productively by engaging all orders of government in a concerted effort to take much more advantage of the opportunities that these extraordinary economies offer to Canadians.
We in the Liberal Party have stressed and will continue to stress the importance of Canada in the world. In support of this, we have proposed the concept of global networks. We say that the older, simpler concept of trade and commerce on its own, of simple export and import of goods and services, should be expanded to include all kinds of engagement on all levels, such as education, culture and environmental co-operation, a much greater engagement, a much broader engagement, and exchange of people and ideas.
Canada should be taking advantage of these extraordinary opportunities that the world and other growing, bustling economies and societies offer, opportunities which the Conservative government just does not seem to understand.