Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise in the House to talk about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
The House has spent considerable time debating the key elements of this trade agreement. We are aware that Panama is already a significant trade partner for Canada, with two-way trade totalling over $235 million in 2011. Panama is an established market for Canadian exports and holds significant potential for Canadian businesses.
We have also heard about the tremendous opportunities that exist in Panama with respect to government procurement. In addition to the ongoing USD $5.3 billion Panama Canal expansion project, the Government of Panama has numerous infrastructure projects either under consideration or already in progress to build or improve ports, roads, hospitals, social housing projects, bridges and airports. These projects are part of the Panamanian government's USD $13.6 billion strategic investment plan for 2010-2014. A country like Canada, with so much expertise, can take advantage of these significant opportunities in Panama.
Panama is also a strategic destination for Canadian investment, with the stock of Canadian investment in Panama reaching over $121 million in 2010.
However, looking beyond this investment, government procurement and market access for goods, this agreement is a comprehensive free trade agreement with obligations that extend well beyond these subjects to include other areas of importance to Canadian businesses.
The free trade agreement provides comprehensive obligations in areas such as financial services, temporary entry of business persons, electronic commerce and telecommunications, and competition, monopolies and state enterprises.
Canadian banking is consistently recognized as among the best in the world. In fact, the World Economic Forum has ranked Canada's banking system as the soundest in the world for four years in a row. This is an area where Canada is truly excelling.
The Canadian financial services sector is a leader in providing high-quality and reliable financial services. Across the Americas, Canadian banks are helping foster economic growth through access to credit and other financial services. In Panama specifically, Canadian financial institutions such as Scotiabank have an active presence and offer a wide variety of banking services. This agreement will help those Canadian financial institutions take advantage of opportunities in Panama.
On financial services, this agreement provides market access parity with what Panama offered to the U.S. through the trade promotion agreement and contains a robust prudential carve-out. This agreement includes comprehensive obligations for the financial services sector, including banking, insurance and securities.
These market access commitments are complemented by key obligations that ensure non-discrimination, provide a right of establishment for financial institutions, and promote regulatory transparency in the financial sector. These are key elements that the Canadian financial services sector is seeking in order to ensure that it is able to compete in an increasingly competitive global market. This government is responding to this demand.
Another important area included in this trade agreement to ensure that businesses are able to fully maximize the opportunities in Panama is temporary entry for business persons. This is an important issue for Canadian businesses to ensure that their employees are able to work in Panama and is a natural complement to market access for goods, services and investment.
In recognition of a significant number of Canadian companies operating in the region, the agreement removes unnecessary barriers impairing the ability of companies to bring in the skilled workers they need. These would include impediments such as the requirement for labour certification, tests, quotas, proportionality requirements or any other prior approval procedure.
The agreement extends to an extensive list of professions, including various technicians and provisions for spousal employment.
The strength of this free trade agreement does not stop there. It also extends into the areas of electronic commerce and telecommunication. Electronic commerce is an important addition to previous free trade agreements in light of the importance of ensuring that no digital economy issues, such as the protection of personal information, consumer protection and paperless trade, are overlooked. These are issues that are increasingly important for businesses in the 21st century and Canada and Panama have recognized this fact.
In the free trade agreement with Canada, Panama has agreed to a permanent moratorium on customs duties for products delivered electronically. This includes items such as electronic software, music purchased online and digital books. This moratorium is important, not only for businesses but for consumers as well.
In addition to electronic commerce, telecommunications provisions were also included to support the competitive development of the telecommunications sector. Through this free trade agreement, Canadian telecommunication service providers will be able to better compete with their American counterparts in the Panamanian market.
Clearly there are many benefits to this free trade agreement with Panama that go beyond trade in goods and investment.
The final area that I will touch on is the obligation in the free trade agreement related to competition, monopolies and state enterprises. This agreement meets Canada's objective of ensuring that anti-competitive business practices and the actions of monopolies or state enterprises do not undermine the benefits of trade and investment.
Canada and Panama will co-operate on issues relating to competition policy through their respective authorities. The obligations ensure that Canadian companies doing business in Panama are treated fairly. There are many other areas of agreement that will offer real commercial benefits to Canadian companies.
Overall, this is a high quality and comprehensive trade agreement. It will allow Canadian businesses to compete and excel in the Panamanian market. This is a market where many key exporters are seeing enormous potential.
According to a recent report published by the Global Centre for Aviation, Panama has the fastest growing economy in all of Latin America and is expected to have the fastest growing economy in Latin America for the next five years. Panama's real gross domestic product growth for 2011 is estimated at 10.6%. That is a faster growth than many other rapidly emerging economies and clearly illustrates that the commercial potential in Panama is very significant.
It is important that Canadian firms establish an early presence in this emerging market and build solid relationships that will provide them with a competitive edge.
Panama holds a unique and influential position in the global trading system, thanks to the Panama Canal. Panama represents an entry point to the broader region, thereby enabling access to neighbouring markets. This growth, driven by the expansion of the Panama Canal and other major infrastructure projects, represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian businesses. This country's sound macroeconomic policy and improved security have resulted in favourable economic conditions and stronger demand for imported products. This represents new opportunities for Canadian exporters.
This free trade agreement has the support of key exporters and investors across Canada and its passage through this House will ensure that Canadian businesses are able to take advantage of opportunities in this important market.