Mr. Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to share how this government's free trade agreement with Panama complements our government's Americas strategy.
First, I would like to speak about how our government's ambitious pro-trade plan and our global commerce strategy are creating new opportunities around the world for Canadian exporters.
Our government's global commerce strategy, developed in close consultations with the Canadian business community, was our strategy to respond to the changes in the global economy and to position Canada for long-term prosperity. The global commerce strategy identifies 13 priority markets around the world where Canadian opportunities and interests have the greatest potential for growth. The strategy also sparked the most ambitious pro-trade plan in Canadian history. It has driven Canadian leadership on the world stage in support of trade, job creation, economic growth and prosperity for hard-working Canadians and their families.
The results have been very impressive. Under the global commerce strategy, Canada has concluded a free trade agreement with nine countries, representing combined markets of $1.5 trillion. We have begun to deepen trade and investment ties with the largest, most dynamic and fastest-growing countries in the world, including Brazil, India, Japan and the European Union. There are also new foreign investment promotions and protection agreements with 14 additional countries.
The Americas are a priority market for our government. In fact, just this past year our government announced plans to strengthen our engagement in the region to ensure our efforts are focused where the impact will be the greatest.
Actually, a lot of members were at a function of ParlAmericas last night, meeting with different ambassadors from the Americas. I had many ambassadors say to me that it is nice to see Canada on their radar, to see that Canadians are travelling into their regions to do business and that the government recognizes the potential in both Central and South America and the Caribbean. They appreciate the work we have been doing in foreign trade, and this Panama trade deal will reinforce that.
I would like to share with the House a bit more about how our free trade agreement with Panama fits in with our Americas strategy. The renewed strategy has three goals. One, is to increase Canadian and hemispheric economic opportunity. Two, is to address security issues and advance freedoms, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, through capacity-building. Three, is to build a stable foundation for Canadian engagement and increased influence in the hemisphere. This agreement definitely helps us do that.
Strengthening economic ties is crucial in today's challenging and uncertain global economic climate. Expanding Canada's trade and investment in the Americas will help protect existing jobs and create new jobs and increased prosperity for all Canadians.
Canada's efforts to increase economic opportunity depend on deepening trade and investment ties by advancing our trade agreement. The Americas is a key region for Canadian bilateral trade initiatives. In fact, seven of Canada's ten concluded free trade agreements have been with countries in the Americas.
However, it is not enough simply to sign a trade agreement. In our government's Americas strategy is the need to make Canadian companies aware of the advantages and opportunities of these trade agreements. Our government understands that through engagement, development, trade and commercial ties, that Canada can be in support of change and growth in the Americas.
Promoting freer trade in the Americas opens new doors and creates new opportunities for Canadian companies, increasing economic benefit for Canadians, including new jobs for hard-working Canadians right across this country, from coast to coast to coast.
Canada's efforts to liberalize trade with the Americas is working. We are removing barriers to trade and facilitating two-way commerce. The Americas offer great potential. Total trade growth between the countries in the Americas and Canada has increased by nearly 40% in the 2005 to the 2010 period.
In order to promote economic opportunity, our government's renewed Americas strategy will focus on intensifying trade promotion and trade relationship building efforts to ensure Canadian businesses and exporters are taking full advantage of these new trade regions. As part of increasing economic opportunity with Panama, Canada is growing economic partnerships that will contribute to the long-term prosperity of both countries.
I have had the pleasure of travelling in Panama on numerous occasions, through the ParlAmericas and on personal trips by myself and with my family. Panama is a dynamic country. This country has the Panama Canal going through it, and three-quarters of the world's trade that goes on oceans goes through that canal.
When we look at Panama's situation in the Americas, with airlines such as Copa, it is becoming the hub for transportation going in and out of Central and South America. That is why I think it is very important to this trade deal to make sure we have the ability to travel in and out of Panama, so we can do more business, not only with Panama, but throughout the region. Panama is a key component in that effort.
This agreement and its parallel labour and environmental agreements will promote trade and investments while creating a winning advantage for Canadian businesses and exporters.
To protect Canadian trade and commerce investments, the security situation in Central America must be taken into consideration. It is a core focus in our renewed Americas strategy.
Panama has recognized its security challenges and has significantly increased spending on security. It has also committed to continued reforms to security institutions. Panama continues to build a strong security co-operation with the United States and with its Central American neighbours, under the Central American Integration System, SICA, regional security strategy.
Our government is pleased with the significant efforts that Panama is making to meet the security challenges and confront the public security threats facing Central America.
International relationships are fundamental. Competition for market share is on the rise. Canada must demonstrate that it is a serious and committed trading partner. Our government has continued to deliver on an ambitious pro-trade plan that is creating new opportunities, not only in the Americans but in dynamic high-growth markets around the world. Furthermore, while sustaining high engagements is essential, Canada will continue to benefit by building relationships more broadly across the private sector, government and academia.
Looking back over the last two years, I have had the privilege of travelling in the region with the Prime Minister, reaching out to our trading partners and helping Canadian businesses secure access to opportunities in those countries. We have also had the Governor General, in countries like Brazil, promoting the educational systems we have here in Canada.
In fact, a country like Brazil is spending a large amount of cash to send students abroad. A lot of our Canadian universities are taking advantage of that situation and are attracting them to be educated here in Canada. When we build relationships like that, we are fostering growth between the two countries. If we look at Brazil and how it is growing, that is not a bad country to be aligned with.
All countries in the Americas have a vested interest in prosperity, security and stability. That is why our government is committed to building sustainable relationships with our like-minded neighbours. Through our strong bilateral relationships, increasing people-to-people ties generated through educational exchanges and increased tourism and business links, our links with Panama are growing stronger every day.
Every day we are seeing more and more opportunities for Canadian businesses and exporters. A good example is that just three weeks ago I had a phone call from a colleague in Panama, whom I had met in one of groups, asking about Canadian beef. He asked me how he could get a hold of Canadian beef, and about the process. That is how to build relationships. We can put him in touch with the appropriate people in the Canadian beef federation, and they can go there to make connections and use those new connections to actually sell more Canadian beef. That is just one example of how farmers are going to benefit from this trade agreement.
With regard to another example, if we look at the wheat industry, we are actually going to have preferential access into Panama over the U.S. The U.S. does not yet have its trade agreement done with Panama, so we are going to have access for Canadian companies long before our competition. We can get in there and build those strong relationships before they do.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a key component to advance the goals of the Americas strategies. When we look at what is going on in the Americas, we see the growth and the growth potential. When we look at the issues they are facing, here is a country that is really reaching out to Canada. This is a country that has been patiently waiting for this agreement.
I know the former ambassador fairly well. He was anxious, as he wanted to see this thing go through the House. Unfortunately, he was recalled, but in the same breath he would always wonder why it took so long, because the people in Panama really want this trade agreement.
During one of my trips to Panama, I had the opportunity to spend some time with one of the diputados in Panama and to visit his riding. I toured some of the needier areas, the poor slum areas, and experienced what he faces in his job as a parliamentarian. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It was heartwarming because what he was doing was making a difference in the individual lives of those people. It was heartbreaking to see the situations the kids were growing up in and the implications of not having a strong economy.
Canada does not go around the world preaching; that is not who we are. What we can do is to help people, assist them, give them an economic opportunity, the ability to help themselves, and give them the tools so they can make their own lives better. How do we do that? One of the best ways is to trade with them, to do business with them and help them learn from us.
We will learn a lot from them because they have a lot to teach us about how to handle business in the region. They know a lot of things that we could learn from their business sector also.
That has been one of the advantages of being with ParlAmericas and something that I promote when I talk to my colleagues in the House. It offers a chance for parliamentarians to travel to different countries within the region in a non-partisan manner. A good example is my travel with a colleague from the Liberal Party to Panama this summer for the AGM of ParlAmericas. We had a chance to talk to parliamentarians from all parties and to build some bridges. This is also what trade agreements do: they allow businesses to get together and build bridges, to seek out opportunities of mutual benefit for companies and partners.
That is what we are doing here. We are just laying out the proper rules for doing this as we move forward and making it easier for our business community and investors to go into different parts of the world, in this case to Panama, and do business. That is nothing but positive, not only for Canada but also for the Panamanians.
When we look down the road to the future and where we are going to leave this country for our kids and how we are moving forward, this trade agreement and others are something that we can do for them. We can give them opportunity, give them market access and let them know that the businesses they work for can export not only to the U.S. or Mexico but also to Panama, Chile, Colombia and, hopefully, Honduras in the future. These are the things we can do for our kids by giving them the opportunities. We cannot give them everything but we can give them chances and opportunities. By promoting a good bill like this, that is what we are doing. We should move this forward and pass it.
Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today in the House and speak to Bill C-24, the Canada-Panama trade agreement. The full name is 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 co-operation between Canada and the Republic of Panama.
Before I go too much farther, I will answer the question just raised by my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North. The reason this agreement has taken so long to get through the House is that the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister of this country prorogued Parliament twice and this bill that was before the House was killed and parliamentarians were deprived of their opportunity to deal with it. That is why the bill has been delayed, not because of anything New Democrats have done.
It is always nice to add some factual basis to the House, as opposed to the government's general approach of relying on spin and accusation and oversimplification, as opposed to solid evidence-based approaches to government.
I would like to briefly describe to the House what Bill C-24 is about. By this legislation, Canada would eliminate all non-agricultural tariffs as well as most agricultural tariffs upon ratification of this agreement. Overall the bill, if passed, would eliminate 99% of tariffs for imports from Panama, and a limited number of tariffs would be phased out over the next 15 years. Canada would not, by this agreement, eliminate over-quota tariffs on supply managed goods such as dairy, poultry and eggs. Additionally, Canada would not eliminate its tariffs on certain sugar products. Therefore this deal is not comprehensive and it does not deal with certain sensitive agricultural issues that are often so delicately handled in trade agreements.
This agreement would see Panama immediately eliminate all non-agricultural tariffs for imports from Canada, and upon ratification 90% of Canada's exports to Panama would enter the country duty-free, including many agricultural products. Other agricultural tariffs would be phased out within five to ten years. A limited number of Panamanian tariff lines would be unaffected by the implementation of the proposed free trade agreement.
Currently, Panama's average most favoured nation tariff rate, which is the lowest tariff rate Panama offers to countries with which it does not have a free trade agreement, for non-agricultural products is 6.4%. Its average most favoured nation tariff rate for agricultural products is 13.6%. However, some agricultural imports into Panama face tariff rates as high as 70%.
This agreement deals with services as well. It extends liberalization of trade and services beyond that established by the World Trade Organization's general agreement on trade in services in finance, information and communication technology, environmental services and energy services.
This agreement facilitates border entry for service providers and business people. It would provide a framework for the eventual reciprocal recognition of professional licensing qualifications in both countries.
This deal also has a chapter on government procurement. It allows contractors to bid on government contracts in both Panama and Canada. Moreover, contractors from Canada would be eligible to bid on Panama Canal Authority contracts. This agreement would prohibit government contracts with domestic content requirement rules that may impede potential suppliers or subcontractors from the partner country. Panama and Canada would both be required to post contract opportunities in a transparent manner for contractors from the partner country. In other words, this deal would open up procurement in Canada to Panamanian businesses and vice versa.
There is a labour co-operation agreement appended to this agreement that is referred to as a side deal on labour. It would require both parties to respect commitments under the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. It would protect the right to collective bargaining, obligate the parties to work toward abolishing child labour, eliminate compulsory labour and prohibit employment discrimination. Canada and Panama would also agree to minimum employment standards, occupational health and safety standards and compensation for sick and injured workers.
Moreover, either country could request a consultation with respect to the other country's obligations under the proposed agreement. If the countries could not reach an agreement with respect to a complaint, a review panel would or could be established if a country persistently abrogated its obligations under the proposed agreement and if the matter is so-called “trade related”.
This independent review panel could impose monetary penalties, which would be collected pursuant to a domestic court order. Those penalties would be limited to $15 million per year for each country and would be spent on programs in the country that violated the labour co-operation agreement.
There is also a side agreement on the environment in this trade deal. Both Canada and Panama would be required not to weaken their environmental regulations, such as they are, in order to attract investment. Both countries would be required to enforce their existing environmental regulations, again such as they are. To this end, mechanisms would be established to ensure that environmental impact assessments occur for proposed projects. In both countries, interested persons could request that the government investigate alleged violations of environmental rules.
Furthermore, the agreement would provide a framework for environmental co-operation between the countries with respect to environmental enforcement capacity, protection of biodiversity, conserving shared migratory or endangered species and developing mechanisms to protect the environment.
Disputes between the countries would be resolved through consultations and exchanges of information only. If those consultations and exchanges were unable to resolve the dispute, the offended party could request that an individual review panel be established to investigate the dispute.
We are opposing this bill for a number of reasons.
First, Panama has an established clear and absolute long-standing reputation as a tax haven for tax evasion and tax avoidance.
Second, Panama has a history of military dictatorship. It has a poor record of labour and human rights. As well, the deal's side agreements for both labour and the environment are very weak, as I will delineate.
Third, we are also concerned that the agreement provides greater rights and powers to foreign investors. This is worrisome given controversies on the environment and human rights records of some Canadian mining firms in Panama.
There are no penalties for environmental violation of this agreement whatsoever. If there was any single violation or multiple violations of the environmental side agreement, not one penny is provided for in this agreement to be levied in terms of fines or penalties; in other words, the environmental side agreement is only suggested.
I will first deal with the tax haven situation. The amount of money invested in tax havens in the world globally at the moment is at an all-time high. In 2011, almost 25% of Canada's investment was invested in the world's top 12 tax havens.
According to a Tax Justice Network report from 2011, Canada loses an estimated $80 billion per year to all forms of tax evasion. The government does not have a system for estimating and publishing the amount of lost revenues due to offshore non-compliance.
In 2011, there were more than 9,000 CRA employees working on taxpayer compliance. As of May 2012, 510 were assigned to the international audit program. That number has not changed since 2008, even though the use of offshore accounts has skyrocketed.
The CRA's 2010 audit of its own enforcement branch confirms the agency's inability to pursue complex offshore cases worth millions of dollars. Instead, it prefers to chase down the so-called “low-hanging fruit”, such as small business and the self-employed.
Panama, as I said, has a long history of serving as a tax haven. Here is some of the testimony we heard at committee in 2010 by Todd Tucker, who is the research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. He testified that Panama offers foreign banks and firms a special offshore licence to conduct business there. Not only are those businesses not taxed; they are subject to little or no reporting requirements or regulations.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, the Panamanian government has little to no legal authority to ascertain key information about these offshore corporations, such as their ownership.
Panama's financial secrecy practices also make it a major site for money laundering from places throughout the world. According to the U.S. State Department, major Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, as well as Colombian illegal armed groups, use Panama for drug trafficking and money laundering purposes. The funds generated from illegal activity are susceptible to being laundered through Panamanian banks, real estate developments and more.
A recent Cornell University study analyzed all prosecutions of the Internal Revenue Service in the United States over a 10-year period, and it found that Panama was tied as the number one country in the world as a source of drug-laundered money and as a tax haven.
There was some testimony at committee that this situation was so-called “improving”. Recently, Panama was removed from the so-called OECD “grey list” after implementing the standard for exchange of information when it signed a tax information exchange agreement with France. Panama now has 14 such agreements.
In March 2012, Canada and Panama entered into negotiations for a tax information exchange agreement. However, importantly, and critically for the opposition, this agreement has not yet been concluded or signed.
This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money laundering in Panama, which I believe no one in this House disputes, including money from drug trafficking. Panama's lack of taxation transparency has led the OECD to continue to label the nation as a tax haven.
I should point out that the so-called “greyness” is lifted from a country when it signs tax exchange information agreements with 12 countries. Notably, former president Sarkozy of France said that, notwithstanding that Panama had signed more than 12—in other words 14—such agreements, he still did not consider Panama to have entered the legitimate world of open transparent banking systems in the globe.
At committee, I questioned the government officials who testified about what due diligence Canada had done in determining the role of drug money in Panamanian banks and businesses. Astonishingly, they had done no study.
Cameron MacKay, a DFAIT official, on October 2, 2012, testified thus:
||...we don't have figures in that regard, and to my knowledge the Canadian government hasn't done particular studies. But we are well aware, of course, that Central America is a region now that's suffering very seriously from the narco-trafficking trade. It's a serious issue across the region, including in Panama.
The U.S. Congress refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before signing a tax information exchange agreement. According to witnesses, this agreement has “a large loophole...that...allows Panama to sidestep tax transparency provisions if they are 'contrary to the public policy' of Panama”.
Analyses of these tax exchange information agreements indicate they are highly ineffective in preventing legal tax avoidance or legal tax evasion unless they are carefully drafted. These agreements typically do not have an automatic information-sharing provision, but rather individual requests must be made.
Furthermore, these tax exchange information agreements generally do not require a partner country to provide information necessary for determining tax compliance in the other nation if it has not been previously created. In particular, it is typically necessary to know the name of the individual suspected of tax evasion to request the overseas tax information. Governments rarely have this information without a whistleblower.
Prior to the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-24, the NDP official opposition proposed to the committee a motion that would stop the implementation of the Canada-Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement, as the U.S. Congress did.
My motion was defeated by the Conservatives and the Liberals who argued that progress was being made on this matter with regard to negotiations underway to sign an agreement. However, we do not have a tax exchange information agreement between Canada and Panama today as we sit and vote on this free trade agreement.
In other words, we are dealing with a noted tax haven, one of the most notorious drug laundering centres in the world. The U.S. Congress said it would not be safe or prudent to sign a free trade agreement with such a country until it first had a tax exchange information agreement in place. However, in this House, the government is asking parliamentarians to go ahead and give a most favourable nation status free trade agreement that would allow money and investment to flow with very little barrier between our two countries, when we do not have a tax exchange information agreement in place, but one might happen in the future. That is imprudent. That is irresponsible.
The U.S. Congress would not ratify its FTA with Panama before a tax exchange information agreement was signed. Why are we?
I want to talk a bit about the labour co-operation agreement. It is not as strong as it could be. It has weak enforcement mechanisms. It invokes international labour organizations' core labour standards. However, according to testimony we received at committee, the agreement does not include specific protection for the right to organize and the right to strike. It provides instead for so-called “effective” recognition of the right to collective bargaining, making this deal weaker than others Canada has signed. Enforcement is weak. Fines are small. There are no countervailing duties and there is no provision for abrogation or any other such remedy.
We heard a lot of testimony that what Canadian business wants is a level playing field. I questioned experts and witnesses at committee and asked what the minimum wage was in Panama. The answer I got was between $1 and $2 per hour. How is that a level playing field for Canadian employers who have to pay minimum wages in Canada of at least $9 or $10 an hour, as well as workers' compensation, health benefits and Canada pension plan benefits? As well, they have to comply with a whole bunch of regulations that are part and parcel of a modern industrial economy. How are they supposed to compete on a so-called level playing field with Panamanian employers who are paying their workers $1 to $2 an hour? That is not a level playing field. It is not fair to Canadian business to sign and enact a trade agreement with a country that has such low standards.
The agreement on the environment is a replication of environmental agreements we have signed before and does not provide for a single penny of penalty. What kind of agreement obligates another country to certain environmental standards, but if it violates them we send it a letter and admonish it? That is irresponsible.
I have a quote from Jennifer Moore from MiningWatch. She states:
|| Although [this agreement] includes an environmental side chapter, this is a non-binding declaration that relies on political will for its implementation, of which sort we have not seen in Panama. On the contrary, we've seen the undermining of environmental protections at the behest of Canadian companies.
The agreement has an investor-state dispute settlement, something that we have heard a lot about in the House over the last two weeks because one is contained in the foreign investment protection agreement with Canada and China. This deal would further entrench the ability of companies to sue governments for policies that are seen to hurt investments. They are administered through tribunals that do not live up to Canadian values of justice, where the judges do not have security of tenure and there is no effective appeal mechanism. In fact, there are about 60 international lawyers around the world who sit on these tribunals. One recently said that he could not believe that any country in the world would give over to an unaccountable panel of three lawyers the power to strike down its domestic democratic legislation. That is exactly what was said.
These investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms are very dangerous. We have seen in the FIPA that they could subject Canadian taxpayers to millions, perhaps billions, of dollars of liabilities simply for the government taking measures to protect Canadian businesses or the environment or social programs. That is wrong.
In terms of the environment, there is a Mesoamerican corridor in Panama that is one of the most important biological and biologically diverse areas of the world. Currently there is a worldwide attempt by mining companies to mine in that area. This is something that is very concerning to many environmentalists. Hundreds of different types of species are at risk through unrestricted mining activities. We heard testimony at committee that this is also of major concern.
Panama accounts for less than 1% of our trade. It is actually 0.03% of Canada's trade. The government always brags about the number of agreements that it has signed. It has signed nine agreements. Who were those agreements with? They were with Panama, Jordan, Colombia, Honduras, Liechtenstein. With great respect to these countries, they are not major economic powers.
What the New Democrat opposition wants is a strategic trade policy where we restart the multilateral negotiations, where we sign trade deals with developed countries that have high standards and developing countries that are on progressive trajectories. These are countries like Japan, India, Brazil, South Africa and the BRIC countries. These are the countries that we should be signing trade agreements with, not countries like Panama that are drug laundering centres, tax havens and have low standards that will hurt Canadian business.
Mr. Gerald Keddy (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and for the Atlantic Gateway, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, before I start the main part of my speech, I would like to take a bit of time to continue my rebuttal of some of the comments made by my hon. colleague from the NDP. I want to lay it out in pretty general terms.
A number of comments were made that simply do not wash. The comment was made that we can hold off on the treaty until we get a tax information exchange agreement. Yes, we can hold off on the treaty forever. We do not ever have to sign it, but we can also negotiate two different areas at the same time.
The reality is that Panama is off the OECD grey list. It is on the so-called white list, because it has improved its tax information sharing with other nations. Therefore, that is no longer an issue for OECD countries. Meanwhile, we are trading with Panama today.
The hon. member does a total disservice to Canadian companies that are trading with Panama now. There is $111 million worth of trade between Canada and Panama, and he shrugs that off as if that is nothing. A good deal of that trade is coming out of Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Ontario, western Canada and British Columbia. It is shared equally among the provinces, and everyone gains. It is an absolute disservice to say that $111 million worth of trade is not important. I frankly disagree.
When we look at the idea of rules-based trading, having a system in which we understand what the tariffs are, going in, and that they will be eliminated to zero, it is all about building capacity in Panama. We cannot do that overnight. Panama has moved light years in the last 20 years, and it has moved in the right direction on every single thing. When the Panamanians took over the Panama Canal, the naysayers, a group the NDP apparently belongs to, said that they would never be able to operate the Panama Canal. They said that the Americans could operate it, because they can do anything. Do you know what? The Panamanians took over the Panama Canal, and not only did they operate it, they did it well.
What has that done for the Panamanian psyche and Panamanian society? It has put hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue into Panama. That hundreds of millions of dollars builds capacity, the very capacity the NDP wants to thwart in Panama. That is the capacity that builds roads and hospitals and sends kids to school. More importantly, when we sign this free trade agreement with Panama, which will enable it to acquire cheaper food because it will be tariff free, kids will be sent to school with food in their bellies. That is a terrible thought, apparently, for the NDP anti-trade group.
I shake my head. I had great hopes for the New Democratic Party in this Parliament. It said that it was going to support trade and look at the trade deals for what they were. New Democrats found a way not to support trade. Whether they like it, whether they do not like it, there are some good things and some bad things. At the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, the final verdict is what counts. If New Democrats do not support this trade agreement, they do not support trade. They should not try to have it both ways. They should not try to equivocate. Either they support trade or they do not support trade.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for putting up with that. It was important that I get it off my chest. I would like to get into the main part of my speech now.
I am pleased to be here today to talk about the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. The free trade agreement would generate increased export and investment opportunities for Canadians by creating a preferential and more predictable trade and investment environment, something I talked about in my opening comments.
When the free trade agreement comes into force, Panamanian tariffs on over 90% of Canadian goods exported to that country will be eliminated immediately. That is good news for Canadian exporters. With $111 million of merchandise traded between Canada and Panama, that is fantastic news.
For Canadian service providers, the free trade agreement would help expand market access opportunities in areas such as information and communications technology, energy and financial services. For Canadians looking to invest in Panama, the free trade agreement would include a chapter of comprehensive rules governing investment. These rules would provide greater protection and predictability for Canadian investors and their investments in Panama. At the same time, the labour co-operation agreement would ensure that these economic advances would not be made at the expense of workers' rights. Furthermore, the agreement on the environment would commit both countries to pursuing high levels of environmental protection, to improving and enforcing their environmental laws effectively, to maintaining appropriate environmental assessment procedures and to ensuring that they do not relax their environmental laws to encourage trade and investment.
I will speak for a moment on that, because it is absolutely key to protecting the environment. Not every country in the world has the same standard of environmental protection. That is the reality of the world we live in. Many of the G8 countries and more advanced economies can afford to protect the environment. For growing economies, those dollars are taken from somewhere else to protect the environment. The great thing about this chapter of the investment treaty would be that they could not allow their environmental protection rules to become slacker. They could not be less for a Panamanian company than for a Canadian company. At the end of the day, it would mean that both countries would have to ensure that they did not relax their environmental laws to encourage trade or investment. That would be a step in the right direction, and it is those types of basic rules that would make a difference for the future of Panama.
The same agreement on the environment would also include provisions on encouraging the use of voluntary best practices, corporate social responsibility and a commitment to promote public awareness of the parties' environmental laws.
The free trade agreement would also provide Canadian exporters of goods and services with greater market access to Panama's government procurement opportunities, including those related to the Panama Canal expansion and other infrastructure projects.
The Panama Canal project is one of the largest and most ambitious projects in the region. It is expected to cost an estimated $5.3 billion. This agreement would better enable Canadian suppliers and investors from across the country to participate in this megaproject by ensuring that Canadian goods and services would have access to procurement by the Panama Canal Authority, without discrimination.
However, it is not just about the canal. I will broaden the discussion further to many of the tremendous opportunities this agreement would offer Canadians when it comes to government purchasing. Our government has been at the forefront of efforts to expand and secure access to foreign government procurement markets. According to OECD statistics, government purchasing plays a significant role in the economies of most countries, including Canada. It accounts for approximately 10% to 15% of a country's GDP, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars annually around the world. These markets present significant opportunities for Canadian suppliers, and our government is working hard to ensure that Canadians have the tools available to take advantage of these opportunities. These obligations would also support the interests of Canadian taxpayers, ensuring increased access, competition and fairness in government procurement in Canada.
What is wrong with the idea of the taxpayer getting the best possible value for his or her hard-earned tax dollars? There is nothing wrong with that principle. These obligations would also support the interests of Canadian taxpayers, ensuring access, competition and fairness in government procurement. I have said that twice, because it is worth repeating. It is worth understanding the basic fairness that can be brought to the procurement market. Ultimately, suppliers, governments and their taxpayers all benefit from these efforts. Our government seeks to accomplish these goals by negotiating agreements such as the World Trade Organization agreement on government procurement and specific chapters in Canada's free trade agreements, such as the one with Panama.
Earlier this year, our government welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations to modernize the WTO agreement on government procurement. However, our efforts to secure and expand opportunities for Canadian suppliers go beyond the World Trade Organization. Most of Canada's free trade agreements, from the North American Free Trade Agreement to those with Peru and Colombia, have obligations on government purchasing. These obligations are based on core principles, including a commitment to non-discrimination between domestic and foreign suppliers as well as an assurance of transparency and clear procedures.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement we are debating here today is another step in our effort to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for hard-working Canadians.
It has been said many times in the House that Panama has a dynamic and rapidly growing economy. Canada's businesses have long been interested in gaining or expanding access to this emerging market. Despite the global economic downturn since 2008, Panama's economy continues to show strong signs of growth. In fact, its political stability and progressive business environment have helped Panama achieve impressive average growth of 6% to 7% over the past several years.
Panama is also an ideal location for Canadian businesses seeking to expand and build long-term business ventures in the Americas. As a gateway to the region, our trade agreement with Panama will make it easier for Canadians to establish that foothold in the Americas.
Panama's government market, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, transportation and services, represents a significant opportunity for Canadian suppliers. The ambitious $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, which I mentioned earlier, is at the top of the list. The Panama Canal serves as a key hub between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is a significant driver of Panama's economy. Its expansion would bring about increased container traffic, some of which will access Canadian ports to supply the North American market. This is yet another example of why Canada must act quickly to implement this agreement. Canadian businesses can compete and win against the best in the world, but we must ensure that they have a fair opportunity to do so.
As I said, opportunities exist beyond the canal. In 2010, the Panamanian government announced an infrastructure plan valued at $13.6 billion over five years. Numerous infrastructure projects are either under consideration or are already in progress to build and improve roads, hospitals, bridges and airports. Among these projects is the Panamanian government's plan to construct a metro system valued at $1.5 billion.
These projects present many opportunities for Canadian companies and Canadian workers. However, we need this agreement in force, because Canadians can benefit from it. The fact is that despite having signed nearly two and a half years ago and having debated it in this place for nearly 60 hours, the opposition continues to accuse our government of rushing this deal. Two and a half years and 60 hours somehow means that we are rushing the deal. I really beg to differ.
We have seen time and time again that the NDP will use any excuse to oppose a trade agreement. It has been that way ever since NAFTA. Twenty-five years ago, the opposition claimed that the Canada-U.S. and North American free trade agreements would wipe out millions of jobs, compromise Canada's sovereignty over freshwater and cause us to lose our Canadian culture. None of those claims came true. In fact, precisely the opposite happened. Since those agreements were signed, the Canadian economy has boomed. Hard-working Canadians have benefited, and we still have full control over our water. Canadian culture is more alive and well, and I dare say, profitable, than it has ever been in the history of our country.
It is not only the NAFTA that the NDP opposes. The NDP member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, when he was the leader of the Nova Scotian NDP, called trade agreements jobs destroying and vowed to fight all trade agreements. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster and former NDP trade critic went so far as to work against Canadian exporters when he argued that Buy American was a perfectly logical policy.
Protectionism is not logical. There is nothing in protectionism that is logical. We should not be surprised that this is yet another trade agreement that the NDP has failed to support. In fact, the NDP members have stood in the way of our attempts to open up new markets for our exporters at every opportunity.
Now, because of these delays, our competitors are catching up. Panama's free trade agreement with the European Union could enter into force as early as the end of this year. Let us consider that for a moment. Most members in this House would look at the European Union and say it is a market-based economy with very high standards for labour relations and the environment and, certainly, that it has democratically based governments.
The EU has done a tremendous job in putting 27 member states together, and soon to be 28 with Croatia joining. We also need to look at the EU for a moment. It did all of that for its member countries to trade with one another. It broke down the trade barriers. The EU has challenges, and in fact the entire world has challenges, with the economy. However, the EU moved forward because it tore down trade barriers. I ask the NDP members to think about this for a moment, that these nations some 60 years ago were shooting at one another. Where are these nations today? They have the most powerful and richest consumer economy on the planet, with 500 million people. It is amazing, and it is because they dared to tear down trade barriers.
Even more importantly, the Panama-U.S. free trade agreement came into force just last week. Another democratically based government with high respect for the environment and for labour, our closest neighbour and largest trading partner, is trading with Panama. That is okay to the NDP members: they will let the Americans and the European Union trade with Panama, but somehow it is wrong for Canada to do the same thing and let our companies compete on equal footing.
Our companies need this agreement so they can take advantage of these commercial opportunities. It is important that Canadian firms establish an early presence to build solid relationships to capitalize on the future opportunities that will arise in this emerging market.
Canadian companies clearly have the expertise to meet Canada's development plans. The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would guarantee access for Canadian suppliers to these types of procurement opportunities, reducing the risk of doing business in the region. The agreement, moreover, would ensure that Canadian suppliers can compete on the same basis as their main competitors in the United States.
It is our job as members of Parliament to make sure that Canadian companies have secure access to opportunities of this nature.
In summary, the time has come to move forward. I certainly still hold out hope for my NDP colleagues. I certainly believe that they do want to move to the centre of the political spectrum. I think in their heart of hearts they understand that trade is good. They have some challenges maybe with some members, but we all have challenges. We do not all agree on every single item. I understand that.
Intuitively, look at the folks we are trading with around the world, especially the United States and the European Union. They are trading with Panama now. They will have their foot in the door ahead of us. We need to be there on equal footing with our foot in the door at the same time.
Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims (Newton—North Delta, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to rise and make comments on the bill before us, the free trade agreement with Panama. Before I get to the substantive part of my argument, I want to touch on a couple of things.
We have heard a lot about the NDP being against free trade. The NDP has shown that it is for free trade, when those free trade agreements are negotiated in a manner that protects human rights, labour rights, the environment, and that is transparent and sustainable.
We are so serious about free trade that our critic, and it was only the NDP critic, my esteemed friend from Vancouver Kingsway, took 13 substantive amendments to committee. If we were not serious, all we would be interested in saying is that we are opposed to this. We are not. We wanted to make this free trade agreement work. In order to make it work, our critic and our whole team put in a lot of time and took 13 amendments to committee. How many amendments did the other opposition parties make? Zero. However, despite all the hard work, my colleagues across the aisle once again refused to accept any amendment.
One of the key things about being a parliamentarian, and the whole purpose of the committee stage, is for people from all political parties to try to improve the legislation. However, there is arrogance from the other side, and because Conservatives have a majority, they are not open to any amendments. The government has a bizarre idea that anything they propose is so superior that it could not possibly be corrected or amended by anyone else. The Conservatives totally ignored the serious work done by parliamentarians to try to fix their legislation so we could then support it.
If any blame is to end up anywhere, it is on the government side. Once again, Conservatives have failed to allow parliamentarians to do their job. They not only use their parliamentary majority at the committee stage to shut down all the amendments, but today as we saw earlier, they used their majority to shut down debate. What do they have to hide? They just want to read out the same old mantra over and over again.
We also heard from the government that this is all about improving trade and improvements for Canadians. Neither the former government, led by a Liberal, nor my friends across the aisle, can be trusted to negotiate free trade agreements. They did not do and they do not do the necessary oversight that is required. My colleagues across the aisle love to quote dollars and figures, so let me quote some numbers from them. These are the Conservatives' figures.
I was so keen to speak on this that I forgot to say that I will be sharing my time with my esteemed colleague from Surrey North.
As I was saying, we have gone from a $26 billion trade surplus to a $50 billion trade deficit. For our manufacturing, which is a value-added job, the trade deficit has gone up six times, to over $90 billion. Those are decent paying jobs that Canadians no longer hold because they have been given away.
Raw materials are not only Canadians' raw materials, but they are also the inheritance of our children and grandchildren. Once again, the export of raw materials without value-added jobs adds up to $30 billion, but value-added exports are down to $35 billion.
If I were an economist or an accountant, I would be looking at these figures and asking the government to go back to the drawing board to do some homework. That is the teacher part of me.
We also hear the Conservatives talk about opening the borders, free enterprise, and all of that. I am reminded that we hear a lot of that when it comes to big tax breaks for international and national corporations. We hear about it when it comes to free trade agreements. However, when it comes to labour market adjustments, of course, all of that disappears. Then we pass legislation so that employers can pay 15% less to temporary foreign workers who we bring in to ensure the free marketplace analogy is not allowed to work when it comes to Canadians looking for decent paying jobs.
I heard my esteemed colleague from across the way talk about NAFTA and how wonderful it has been. I would remind him of the reality in British Columbia, the beautiful province that I reside in and which is a pleasure to call home. In B.C., we have seen truckload after truckload of raw logs going over the border. Many of our towns in northern B.C. and in the interior have become ghost towns, as they watch those raw logs disappear over the border. Gone with them are the jobs in manufacturing, and, of course, we then buy the manufactured products back.
Let me say that if one mentioned NAFTA in many towns in B.C., one would not get a pleasant reaction. My colleague from British Columbia sitting on the other side knows what a heated topic exporting raw logs from British Columbia is and how it has impacted our communities in a huge way.
The other issue I have to touch on is the environment. One of the key areas for us to address is the environment, and free trade agreements are one of the ways we can do that. However, the Conservative government seems determined to undermine and dismantle environmental protection. Through these free trade agreements, it would also be supporting environmental degradation in other countries as well. I think that is unacceptable. We really have to take a look at where we are going with this.
Members all know that we do not live in isolated cells. Environmental factors and global warming do not recognize borders. They do not stop to show a passport. When pollution occurs in Panama, it impacts us in British Columbia, across Canada and around the globe. We have to be cognizant of that.
Of course, our mining company interests in Panama would be protected and we are happy about that, but there needs to be a balance here. However, it is imbalanced, which makes us not support this particular free trade agreement.
I will quote from Jen Moore's presentation to MiningWatch Canada .
|| Although [the agreement] includes an environmental side chapter, this is a non-binding declaration that relies on political will for its implementation, of which sort we have not seen in Panama.
Last but not least, I want to mention the money laundering and tax haven in Panama.
The Conservative government talks about security and a halt to drugs. If someone has five marijuana plants, it would give them a six-month minimum sentence. However, it is willing to sign an agreement with a country that even the OECD has recognized as being a tax haven, where money laundering takes place and there is no transparency over those issues.
New Democrats have very serious concerns. We are opposed to this agreement because the Conservatives refuse to accept the very intelligent amendments put forward by our critic.
Mr. Jasbir Sandhu (Surrey North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House on behalf of the citizens of Surrey North to speak to Bill C-24, the proposed free trade agreement between Canada and Panama.
As the Asia-Pacific Gateway critic and someone who is very concerned with Canada's trade deficit, I know my colleagues on the opposite side do not like facts and figures but I am going to give them some. When the Conservatives came into power in 2006, our trade surplus was $25 billion. That is a fact. The Conservatives like to talk about trade and how they want to expand our markets. However, under the Conservative government that $25 billion surplus has turned into a $50 billion deficit. That is the Conservatives' record and they like to talk about numbers. I have gotten that off my chest so I will carry on with my speech.
I am very supportive of an open and progressive approach to trade. That includes building a stronger economy and promoting Canada's interests. Unfortunately this agreement would not fit the bill. I will not be supporting the bill for a number of reasons. Chief among those reasons is that when the bill's previous incarnation, Bill C-46, was studied at the committee stage, we heard very compelling testimony from many witnesses regarding the use of Panama as a tax haven for tax evasion and tax avoidance. Furthermore, Panama has a poor record on labour rights, and the deal's side agreements for labour and the environment are very weak. We are also very concerned that the agreement would provide greater rights and powers to foreign investors. This is worrisome, given controversies regarding the environmental and human rights records of some Canadian mining firms in Panama.
Bill C-24 was studied very briefly at the international trade committee of which I am a member. The testimony we heard confirmed that these issues continue to be of concern today. Motions and amendments that would address these glaring issues in the agreement were introduced by the member for Vancouver Kingsway, our NDP international trade critic, but were opposed and defeated by both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
After studying the situation in Panama more closely, one of my greatest concerns is that while Canada and Panama are in the process of negotiating a tax information exchange agreement, tax disclosure issues have yet to be meaningfully addressed despite protestations to the contrary from the Panamanian government, and undoubtedly the Conservative government, when we raise these issues. It is a major issue that the U.S. Congress refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before signing a tax information exchange agreement.
There are very compelling reasons not to sign the agreement with Panama in the interest of Canadian taxpayers. In 2011, Canada's bilateral trade with Panama represented 0.03%, which is less than 1%, of our overall global trade. The agreement would represent the Conservatives' quantity over quality approach to trade deals. There is no need to rush into an agreement before meaningfully addressing the concerns about Panama being a tax haven.
I will speak in more depth about the tax information exchange agreement because it is very concerning and should cause us to pause before we enter into this agreement with Panama. In March 2012, Canada and Panama entered into the negotiation of a tax information exchange agreement. However, this agreement has not yet been signed. This is very troubling, considering the large amount of money laundering in Panama, including money from drug trafficking, that we heard about at the committee level. Panama's lack of taxation transparency has led the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to label the nation a “tax haven”.
As I said before, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before it signed a tax information exchange agreement. Canadian Parliament should be equally cautious. However, analysis of these agreements indicates that they are highly ineffective in preventing legal avoidance or illegal tax evasion. These agreements typically do not have an automatic information sharing provision, rather an individual request must be made. Furthermore, they generally do not require a partner country to provide the information necessary for determining tax compliance in other nation if it has not been previously created.
Recently, Panama was removed from the so-called OECD “grey list” after substantially implementing the standard for exchange of information when it signed a tax information exchange agreement with France. I believe it has about 14 agreements in place.
At committee, prior to the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-24, my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, proposed a motion to the international trade committee that would stop the implementation of the Canada-Panama trade agreement until Panama agreed to sign a tax information exchange agreement. I voted in favour of the motion, as did the other New Democrat members of the committee. I supported it because it does not make sense to sign a free trade agreement without a tax information exchange agreement in place.
Unfortunately, the motion was defeated by the Conservatives, along with the Liberals. They argued that progress was being made and negotiations were under way to sign an agreement. I strongly disagree with this line of reasoning. This is putting the cart before the horse. There is no reason to rush the agreement through Parliament. If we in fact are on our way to signing a tax information exchange agreement, why not wait? What is the rush? Why not get that agreement in place before we sign a free trade agreement with a nation that has been known to have money laundering and tax evasion schemes in place? That question has still not been answered by the government.
Considering Panama's history and reputation on such matters, it should be clear why such an agreement is necessary before signing a trade deal and why we need to examine its terms and adequacies. The U.S. Congress would not ratify a free trade agreement with Panama before a tax information exchange agreement was signed. Why should we not have the same basic requirement in Canada? It does not make sense to me and I do not understand why or how it makes sense to the members of the House who intend to vote to pass the bill.
At the committee level, we proposed several reasonable amendments that would have made progressive changes to the bill. These included the addition of the crucial concepts of sustainable development and sustainable investment, a requirement for tax transparency and provisions to incorporate the protection of labour rights in the bill, including the right to collective bargaining. Other amendments would have required the Minister of International Trade to consult with labour and trade unions, as well as work with human rights experts and organizations in order to create impact assessments for the trade agreement.
There are many amendments. In total 13 were introduced, yet the Conservatives voted them down. They were reasonable amendments that would have made reasonable corrections to some of the things the Conservatives have overlooked in this free trade agreement. The NDP prefers the multilateral approach to trade and supports trade agreements that expand Canadian exports by reducing harmful barriers to trade and encourage the development of value-added industries.
I want to conclude by saying the same thing I started with. The Conservatives' trade record is very poor. When they took over government it was $25 billion in surplus. Now we are $50 billion in deficit. We should look this deal over before passing it.
Mr. Ed Holder (London West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be standing here in this House to speak about the issue of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. I have had the opportunity to listen to members opposite and to some of the questions that have gone through to our colleagues.
Let me start by establishing, if I might, that part of my bona fide is that I have been on the trade committee since I was first elected, and I am now in my fifth year. It has been a privilege to be on that committee, because it has been a very active committee. I will touch on that in a moment.
It is rather interesting to hear members from the other side talk about the issue of free trade as if they were the primary proponents of it, when in fact in my experience over the last four years and some, they just do not support free trade. I will grant that members opposite, without a voice vote, chose to support the Jordan free trade agreement, and I salute them for that.
However, that is a modest deal. It is an important deal for what we are going to establish in the Middle East, but it is only a piece of a much larger spectrum of what Canada is trying to do.
As I address my comments, I am not sure whether I want to address members opposite in terms of some of the things they have said or whether I want to stay specifically to the point of the text and the message I want to deliver. Perhaps I can share a bit of both for the benefit of the House.
Yesterday I was in the 10th largest city in Canada: London, Ontario. Our hon. Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development was with me, as well as the members for Elgin—Middlesex—London and London North Centre. Mr. Butters, the president and CEO of Purifics, a water treatment facility success story, when asked by a person who was not in support of free trade how he could justify it, said he would not be here were it not for free trade. He said he deals with free trade in Europe and in the United States, and it is critical to his success, his survival. It is the reason he is in business today.
I can echo those comments right across the spectrum of businesses across our great country. Why do we think the job creators of this country are the ones who support free trade? It is because they know Canada's survival is as a trading nation.
Mr. Speaker, you would know, because you seem wise, that one out of every five positions in this country is predicated on trade, and that is growing.
I find it baffling that members opposite would stand up in this House and pretend to support free trade when in fact they do not vote in favour of it. I struggle with that very deeply. I need them to search their souls.
Mr. Speaker, you might advise them accordingly to consider that, to actually think about what it means to be without free trade in this country. It is that critical.
I have a couple more things I wanted to share because I really think it is important. The member opposite, in his comments, said it is only a small deal. I suppose in some respects it is only a small deal. However, could anyone tell me how small that is to the humble potato farmer of Prince Edward Island when he has to pay a huge tariff when he delivers his potatoes, whole, and his frozen fries to Panama?
Tell me, what would my friends from P.E.I. say? If they had any respect for the humble potato, if for no other reason than that, they would want to stand up and support this free trade deal.
There is much more. In every province and every territory in this country, there are those industries that significantly benefit from free trade. I would like to touch on those a little.
Can members opposite tell me how they justify tariffs of up to 15% in Nova Scotia on fish and seafood? I cannot understand why they would want to do that. Right now paper and paper board products in Newfoundland are suffering tariffs as much as 15%, which kills jobs. The party opposite talks about creating jobs, but I am not sure about that. If it were, it would look to Alberta.
I know members opposite are challenged for some seats in Alberta. Forest products have 15% tariffs; milling products have as much as 40% tariffs. Would members opposite say this agreement is not good enough for Albertans? I would say, if they want to grow some seats in that section of the country, they might just want to say it is good for Alberta, and if it is good for Alberta, it might even be good for them, if they would get behind this and endorse it.
If members opposite were from Saskatchewan, they would say that pulses and cereals have tariff rates that range anywhere from 15% up to 40%. That is killing jobs and prevents additional job creation in the province of Saskatchewan. In Manitoba, the oil seeds and pulses, again, have tariffs of up to 15%.
When we sign this free trade agreement with Panama, almost every tariff will be eliminated. Those that are not eliminated are going to have a range of some three to five years and then they will be eliminated.
What would our friends opposite say to the pork industry? I would actually ask them, and they have consistently heard from the pork industry, which says, “Please, let us do business in Panama without the job-killing tariffs”. That is what they tell us.
I wonder what some members opposite would say to that. How can they stand up and say they support trade when in fact it has not been their history? I know, because I have sat in my chair at every meeting every week at the international trade committee, and that is not the position they take.
I have already excused Jordan, whatever excuse anyone might make about Jordan, and I have great respect for that trade agreement. However, I say it goes much more and greater and beyond that, and if they do ever want to imagine that at some point they would be at some spot other than that side of the House, they would have to come back and say trade is good for Canada and good for Canadian jobs. Frankly, I do not hear it from them. I hear a lot of rhetoric and I do not hear that.
When NDP members say it is a small deal, I would not say to these industries, companies and individual jobs in provinces and territories across this country, which are dependent on exporting to Panama, that this is just a small deal. I think that is rude, and we would never be rude in this House.
The interesting thing is that NDP members also ask what the rush is. I would like to inform the House, for those who do not know. Here is the rush. Did they know that last week the United States did sign its deal and ratified it with Panama? That automatically puts us at a significant disadvantage, because we are now behind the U.S., and we have to push this deal along. What is the rush? It was in 2008 that we started speaking about this and 2010 when we brought it back. It died in the last Parliament. We are trying to bring it back, so we can ensure that industry across this country is protected. We want to do that with every opportunity.
My colleague opposite made the comment that he would prefer to do multilaterals. This government has always said that multilaterals are good, and if Doha were around, we would support that. However, I fear that Doha is as dead as Elvis, and the problem with that is that we have to look at bilaterals and opportunities where we can.
Why are we doing CETA? That is 27 countries. That is a bilateral technically, but it is 27 countries with which we are doing business. We did EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, which is four countries: Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Iceland. That was important to them and important to us.
I do not know why members opposite cannot celebrate good news. This is good news for Canada. It is great news for Canadian jobs. If we get behind the United States in terms of ratifying these deals, good deals for Canada, then frankly it puts our workers and jobs in Canada at a huge disadvantage.
It is interesting too, because I have heard of issues like environmental and labour rights. One of the things I am very proud of is how our officials have established the negotiations they have done with Panama, as they have done with other countries. They have been very proper and very thorough, dealing with labour co-operation agreements with Panama and environmental co-operation agreements.
There are just a couple of things I would like to emphasize, because I think they bear noting. Here is what it means for labour. Members opposite, particularly in Her Majesty's official opposition, think their only role is to oppose. Maybe some day in an off moment someone will explain why they are given that title, because that is all they seem to want to do, oppose. If they would just celebrate and get on board, put their politics aside and do what is right for Canada and Canadians and for jobs in this country, I would say that is the right thing. They should get on side with that right away.
It is interesting, when I hear about the concerns members opposite talk about with respect to labour. I want to touch on this. The labour co-operation agreement we have put in place has several things: the right to freedom of association; the right to collective bargaining; the right to the abolition of child labour; the elimination of forced and compulsory labour; the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
If members opposite were so compelled that they truly believed in that—forget the potato for just a moment—they would get behind this for the sake of labour in Panama. I am glad this does good things for the great people of Panama, whether it is from the environmental standpoint, whether it is from the labour co-operation standpoint, whether it is for their ability to improve their standard of living by being able to bring goods into our country. However, what about Canada?
Who is speaking for the Canadian worker? Who is speaking for Canadian jobs? Who is speaking for Canadian businesses that want this deal? Is that not the point? The Conservative Party is speaking for Canadian jobs, and I am proud to be a member of the party that does that.
I would like to touch on a couple of other things, because we have heard of issues like money laundering and how it is rampant in Panama. I decided to pull a piece out of a very interesting publication. Panama historically had challenges with respect to money laundering. Its improvement has been so significant that it has been taken off the grey list, because it has tried very hard to improve its financial institutions. Not only that, but we have great institutions like Scotiabank, which has been in Panama since 1983, and from a corporate social responsibility has helped show the way to do business properly with financial institutions in Panama. As a result of that success, it has become the fifth largest bank in Panama. I say bravo to Scotiabank for its leadership and commitment to corporate social responsibility. We can all be very proud of that.
There are other things about the opposition to this that frustrate me. We have heard discussion earlier today about the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is a project of some $5 billion or $6 billion. I have heard at committee and in the House that somehow that has passed us by. That is not exactly true. We had the Ambassador of Panama to Canada come to our committee a few months ago, and he said there are still huge opportunities. They are not just with that $6 billion project, but there are offshoots of that relating to infrastructure that represent some $13.2 billion of economic benefit that will be available in the market. Would I not want to give businesses like EllisDon, McKay-Cocker and M.M. Dillon out of London, Ontario, which do great international work, and all those other London companies great opportunities to do business? Why would the opposition members deny it? That is just wrong.
If members were truly committed to supporting jobs in all their communities, as I know this side is, they would say this is a deal we must get behind. Maybe they have to think of it like Jordan, that it may not be the biggest deal, but it is important to various industries in every province and territory in this country. It is truly beneficial, and we know it to be because the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, local chambers of commerce and job creators say so. If that is truly the case, it begs the question why members opposite cannot say they want to do this for the sake of their communities. I think it is the right thing for them to do. By getting behind a deal like this, they would be setting the stage for a very interesting dynamic, because Panama is the hub of Central America, which is the gateway between two major oceans and the gateway to South America.
We have done deals in Colombia and Peru, and in case there is some confusion, we deal with every country in the world in trade today. Canadian businesses deal with every country in the world today. Businesses are asking for a rules-based system so they know what happens. It is only right that businesses have an expectation that, when they do business in a foreign country, they know the consequences, the rights and the obligations. That seems to me to be fundamental. With my 30-plus years of business experience, I would say that if I wanted to do business in any country, I would want to know the rules.
Earlier I heard a member opposite say we need to do more business in the United States. By the way, I do not think any member of the House would challenge that, but we want to decrease the dependency on our business with the United States. I want to grow that business, but I want to expand it right around the world. That is why this government has been so committed to trade deals, everywhere from South America, to Jordan, to EFTA. We are now negotiating CETA, which involves the 27 countries of the European Union. We are negotiating the trans-Pacific partnership. We have recently been invited in. That involves many countries in the far east that will give us a gateway to Asia.
There is another opportunity we have not talked about. Several countries with which we already have trade, and in fact, with which we have trade agreements, but on a bilateral basis, are coming together in South America and Central America to try to establish more of that multilateral kind of concept. We support that. As long as a multilateral is not formal, I will do a bilateral agreement with every country in the world where I get a chance. That is my commitment to Canadian jobs.
I want to remind members that what we have here is a Canadian opportunity. However, we are already a little late. We cannot be late any longer. If we want to protect Canadian jobs, grow those opportunities, and protect that humble potato and everything else we do, we have an obligation to act expeditiously and as appropriately as we can to ensure that. Because Panama has already signed a deal with the United States, which is our major competitor in Panama, what we must do is put it in place as quickly as the House will allow. Then we must send it to the Senate, of course, for royal assent, as quickly as we can, for the sake of Canada, for the sake of our jobs, and to make sure that our kids have futures. Do not steal those jobs away. Give us the opportunity, give us the tools, to do that.
As I stand in my committee, we hear members who have very thoughtful views about trade with other countries, and I respect the fact that they have those views. I am surprised, after they have done as much as they can, that they would not fully embrace the concept of free trade. It is so basic. It is basic business and basic humanity. If we were to do business with a country like Panama, it would be raising that standard of living. It really would. We would also be raising our standing of living in Canada. That is what is important.
We have created some 800,000-plus jobs since the economic action plan was put in place. That was not done by accident. That happened because we have a plan, and a critical part of that plan includes putting in free trade agreements right around the world.
If we truly want to consider opening up the gateways to South America, and we already have some avenues in place, we have to do that with Panama. That will matter to Central America. That will matter to South America. It sends a message that Canada is open for business. That is the key to what we are speaking about here.
It absolutely dazzles me when members opposite do not seem to understand that. I would truly like them to take their partisanship off, and for the sake of jobs in this country, come forward, just as they did in Jordan, where they showed that they could, to say that they support trade, because look at what we did in Jordan. I hope that was not just a ruse. I hope that is not the case.
I am not a cynical guy. My Cape Breton mom said, “You've got two things in your life. You've got your name and your integrity, and you don't mess up one without messing up the other.”
I would ask the members opposite whether for the sake of Canada, for the sake of business, and for the sake of the Canadian worker, they would do as they did in Jordan and come alongside the Conservatives and let us just do this. Some things are just the right thing to do. That is fundamental.
It is a privilege for me to be on this committee, where I have an opportunity to have an opinion or two. I will apologize. My Cape Breton mother always said, “You remind me of your Cape Breton grandad. Why use 10 words when 100 can do the same thing?” I will raise my hand to say that this might be a modest fault. However, she also said, “If you don't stand for something, you fall for anything.” Therefore, I say to members opposite, do not fall for anything. Stand for the right thing. Stand for Canadian jobs. Let us make a difference in this country and let us grow it to be the greatest in the world.