Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-20 concerning the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Honduras, for which the agreement in principle was concluded on November 5.
Free trade is a very important policy for Canada. The many advantages of free trade cannot be ignored, and it goes without saying that the strength of the Canadian economy relies on opening new markets. For that reason I do not understand why the government is delaying finalizing the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Honduras. I would like the government to move more quickly and to take concrete action with respect to emerging markets. This agreement is a start, but it is not indicative of the ambition that Canada should have with respect to international markets.
I am also wondering why the government has suddenly found that there is an urgent need for action in this area. I am wondering about the government's sense of urgency, because it has been negotiating this agreement since 2010. It has taken the government almost three years to put this agreement back on the table. Surprisingly, in 2010, the government was talking about short-term trade prospects. I wonder whether the government really takes international trade seriously, whether it is really a priority, or if this is just empty rhetoric.
If we look at the figures for 2012, we see that Canadian exports to Honduras totalled $38.6 million. Bilateral trade between Canada and Honduras during the same period totalled $257.2 million, while Canadian imports from Honduras were valued at $219 million.
While trade between the two countries is not substantial, there are still many companies waiting for progress to be made in this area. They are looking for more openness, and unlike the NDP, which rejects the bill without understanding the importance of free trade agreements, I think we need to consider businesses and workers.
Once a free trade agreement is in place, Canadians can expect to see more jobs for the middle class and more business opportunities for companies. The Liberal Party has mentioned this fact on a number of occasions both in and outside the House. Every effort must be made to help the middle class.
Consideration must also be given to potential trade opportunities for Canada. Given the size of Canada’s economy, it is critically important for us to compete globally for emerging markets. In my view, the government needs to be more serious and more transparent when it comes to this matter. It needs to answer questions over its failure to take action with respect to other emerging markets.
I agree that international markets are more open from an economic standpoint. The world and trade are evolving rapidly. This means we need to act more quickly on free trade initiatives.
Certain Canadian businesses stated in committee that they had lost a share of the commercial market in Honduras when the free trade agreements between Central America and the United States were signed in 2005. They pointed out that Canada needed to act as quickly as possible to regain this share of the market. We are already lagging behind. A free trade agreement with the Republic of Honduras represents an important step in the resumption of trade with Central America. However, we will then have to turn our attention to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and El Salvador and negotiate additional agreements.
Previous Liberal governments in fact concluded trade agreements with far more influential countries like Costa Rica, the State of Israel and Chile.
Consider Chile, for example. Bilateral trade of goods with that country represents $2.5 million Canadian, and exports to Chile amount to $789 million Canadian. We are talking about trade that is almost 10 times greater than that between Canada and the Republic of Honduras.
Although this government boasts of having negotiated several agreements, such as the agreements with Colombia, Jordan, Panama and the one being negotiated with the Republic of Honduras, only the agreement reached with Peru appears to be as ambitious as those achieved by Liberal governments.
These agreements do not position Canada where it should be in the global economy. As is its responsibility, I urge the government to do more for international trade.
Furthermore, in addition to the free trade agreement, an agreement on environmental co-operation has been reached with the Republic of Honduras. That agreement refers to the promotion of stronger environmental policies and sound environmental management. The Canadian government must make sure it keeps those promises and develops measures designed to improve environmental performance. It must also ensure that businesses involved in trade between the two countries comply with them. For the moment, the agreement makes no mention of any audit mechanism. That means there would be no penalties for businesses contravening these agreements.
When it comes to the environment, the Conservatives have some work to do to regain Canadians’ trust. The environment has never been a priority for the Conservatives, and everyone knows it. It is therefore surprising that they have moved forward with an agreement of this kind.
Can the Prime Minister and the Minister of International Trade give us any guarantees that this environmental co-operation agreement will be a success?
There is also talk about labour co-operation agreements. We ask that the government ensure that workers’ fundamental rights are a priority and that labour law is complied with, here and in Honduras.
It is essential that any increase in trade occurs in a manner respectful of workers and that free trade between the two countries will not lead to weakened labour rights.
Once this agreement is final, we will be entitled to demand acceptable wages and working conditions for the workers of the Republic of Honduras.
As my colleagues previously mentioned, we are aware of the unstable situation in Honduras, and we believe it is not a situation that warrants the economic isolation of that country. We must ensure that increased trade between the two countries can be achieved through harmonious relations and that free trade side agreements will be complied with.
This agreement will help strengthen the national economy of Honduras and at the same time prevent certain violations of fundamental rights by force of the ties that will bind us. Economic ties between countries have the power to encourage better behaviour.
The government must still make sure that this economic agreement works properly; otherwise, trade must be halted. That calls for a great deal of vigilance and oversight in the areas of labour and the environment.
If the government really wants to guarantee human rights in Honduras as part of this free trade agreement, it must issue an annual report and require one from Honduras, so that the public can see whether human rights have been respected as trade between the two countries grows.
We are entitled to require compliance with these parallel agreements, and to have proof of compliance. I hope that this government will remain vigilant with respect to the adverse consequences of the bill, given the unstable situation in Honduras. We must remain alert and monitor the internal situation in that country.
In conclusion, I support this bill, because it represents a first step toward trade with new markets. Because our economy is based on exporting, I believe that eliminating barriers to trade can only be beneficial to Canada. I therefore ask the government to be more persuasive in this bill on free trade with Honduras, and to ensure that Canada is open to emerging markets in a way that fully reflects our values. The government must provide for better monitoring of the political, economic and environmental situation in the countries with which we trade. Otherwise, Canada’s image could suffer.