He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on the NDP amendments to take out certain key portions of Bill , which is the implementation legislation on the free trade agreement with Panama.
The reason why the NDP is opposing this agreement, as many of the witnesses who came before the standing committee can attest, is because this is just another symbol of what has been a pretty dysfunctional trade strategy from the government.
Over the last 20 years, the middle class has been gutted. We have seen reduced incomes for most Canadian families and increasing inequality. Inequality in Canada is at the same level as it was in the 1920s. A lot of this is due to a series of bad right-wing economic policies that have been put forward, first, by the Liberal government and continued by the Conservative government. One of the components within that is how the Conservative government approaches trade strategy.
We will hear Conservatives in the House talk about how this is a fantastic opportunity and that Canadians will prosper. Canadians have heard that line in agreement after agreement. The government said the same thing about the softwood lumber sellout. It said the same thing about the ship building sellout. It said the same thing about the buy America sellout.
However, we have seen the contrary. We have seen middle class incomes eroding, poor Canadians getting less and struggling harder to make ends meet. In part, it is because the government signs these agreements without due thought to the consequences.
This may be surprising, but the Conservative government does not even do impact studies before it signs these agreements. It just goes ahead from the back of a napkin, hoping and praying that everything will turn out right.
It is fascinating to actually look, in real terms, at the export figures. Every time we have signed a bilateral trade agreement, our exports to those markets have actually gone down and not up.
We will hear some bafflegab from Conservatives later today and they will use a very clever trick. Instead of using real dollars, they will use current dollars. As we know, if we use current dollars, we can throw out anything and show that people are earning more money because the inflation rate and devaluation that takes place is not taken into consideration in that purchasing power. It is the same thing with exports. In real terms, in constant dollars comparing apples to apples in the markets that the Conservative government has signed these bilateral trade agreements, our exports have gone down. That is a statement of fact.
The Conservatives will try a lot of bafflegab, but a real reason why their trade strategy is so dysfunctional is because they have not done their homework and checked the figures. In fact, the NDP did the research through the Library of Parliament because, after asking DFAIT month after month, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was unable to give the actual real-term constant dollar value of our exports to those markets.
I will cut to the chase. We have a dysfunctional Conservative government with a dysfunctional trade strategy. The government is making most Canadians poorer because it is not giving due thought to the impacts of what these trade agreements are and has a rabidly right-wing approach on trade agreements generally.
We have signed a trade agreement with Panama, but what is the problem with Panama? In a study from the Internal Revenue Service of the United States, tax havens and criminality are mentioned as well as what happens in Panama because of its encouragement to launder dirty money. The study says that 75% of all sophisticated drug trafficking operations use offshore secrecy havens like Panama.
I will cite from Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works by Ronen Palan. He states, “It is evident to all who have studied the offshore banking business that its growth has been fuelled by the phenomenal increase in cash from the U.S. drug trade”.
The IRS states that of the investigations it has conducted, 45% involved illegal transactions derived from legal income and about 55% of cases actually dealt with illegal income from drug trafficking. The IRS cites the offshore money laundering havens where this takes place, which is very interesting. Leading them all is Panama and the Cayman Islands. The sites named by the IRS account for 85% of all cases involving transactions of illegal income.
It is not simply a process of signing a trade agreement with just any country. We are talking about the leading money laundering dirty drug money tax haven in all of the world tied with the Cayman Islands. The the government has a trade agreement with it.
I will not have time today to go into the labour violations, environmental standards or treatment of aboriginal people in Panama. However, I know my NDP colleagues will be mentioning this over the next few hours and days of debate. Instead I will focus on the issue of the money laundering of dirty drug money.
The Conservatives know full well the fundamental issue that has come up and stopped Congress in the United States from moving forward with a trade agreement with Panama. It apparently has higher standards than the Conservative government. One would think the Conservative government would then say that it would negotiate hard on behalf of Canadians, that it would put a stop to the money laundering of dirty drug money and that it would demand a tax information exchange agreement with the Panamanian government. It did not do that.
It sent a letter last year and the Panamanian government did not deign to respond for a long time. However, because the Conservatives are soft on the crime of money laundering dirty drug money decided they wanted to move ahead with the trade agreement, despite the fact it had absolutely no commitment from the Panamanian government to clean up the mess.
What response did they get? We will hear Conservatives say that they got a commitment from the Panamanian government to clean up all the money laundering of dirty drug money that takes place in Panama. That is what they will tell parliamentarians and the public, but they do not have a tax information exchange agreement. Even something minor like a double taxation agreement only deals with legal funds. It does not deal with the money laundering of dirty drug money that takes place in Panama as I speak.
The Conservatives did not get any of those assurances. However, there is a clause in the bill. What does the clause in the trade agreement actually say? It says that nothing should impede the transfer of funds in or out of the country. I guess what the Conservatives are saying is that not only is having a tax haven okay, which they are fine with as they are soft on the money laundering of dirty drug money, but it also says that they cannot stop the flow. If the Hells Angels decides it wants to money launder in Panama, I guess that means the trade agreement says that is okay, too.
These are the fundamental points about which people who voted for the Conservatives in the past should be concerned. We are not talking about economic development or progress. This dysfunctional trade policy has actually put the lie to those pretensions.
We would not be seeing most family incomes and exports to those bilateral markets go down in real terms, despite the bafflegab where the Conservatives try to magically produce, on the basis of current dollars, some kind of magical formula that does not take into consideration the fact that exports have gone down because the export strategy, pretty pathetically, is dysfunctional and failed. It is not just that. The agreement itself allows that protection and comfort for the money laundering of dirty drug money.
This is fundamentally hypocritical. It is appalling to me that a Conservative government that is so soft on white collar crime and so soft on the laundering of dirty drug money, if it is trying to push an election at the same time, would actually bring this bill forward. Over the next days of course we are going to be raising these issues, and of course Conservative voters would be the most concerned about this hypocrisy from the Conservative government.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to this bill. I did not expect to be speaking to additional NDP amendments to the bill, but I can honestly say I am not terribly surprised.
Without question these amendments are dilatory, obstructionist and unnecessary. They are a thinly veiled attempt to kill the bill, nothing more, nothing less. Worse yet, in my opinion, they disrespect the committee process because all committee members had ample opportunity to put forward all of their amendments at committee stage. We had lengthy debate and heard numerous witnesses, yet here we are debating four amendments that have nothing to do with the substance of the bill. They are only here to kill the bill.
I am happy to speak to Bill , the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, and am privileged to do so.
We need to recognize a few facts, because the previous speech was pretty short on facts.
Panama is a strategic hub for the Americas. It is an important nexus of commercial activity throughout the region. It is already an important market for Canadian businesses. In 2009, two-way merchandise trade between our countries totalled $132.1 million. Panama is a market with great potential, and this free trade agreement would help Canadian businesses take advantage of the opportunities that it offers. I have a personal example.
There is an engineering firm in my riding that specializes in the oil and gas sector. At the present time it is looking at some contracts in Panama. In order to fulfill those contracts, because of the duty, the company is better off to use its subsidiary business in Mexico and ship straight from Mexico to Panama. If this deal goes through, those jobs will stay in Canada.
This agreement would also establish a level playing field so that our companies could maintain or improve their competitiveness in a market where strong competitors, such as the United States and the European Union, have or are seeking preferential access.
A Canada-Panama free trade agreement would result in tangible benefits for Canadians. For example, it would be of key importance to Canadian merchandise exporters.
In 2009, two-way trade between Canada and Panama in non-agricultural merchandise amounted to $104.2 million with Canada's non-agricultural exports to Panama totalling $68 million. The hon. member wants to ignore the numbers as if they did not exist, but we have substantive trade between Canada and Panama now. It begs the question: why would we not include clearer rules to establish beneficial rules-based trading with a country that we are already trading with, that helps Canadian businesses and helps Canadian jobs?
Key Canadian non-agricultural exports to that market have included pharmaceuticals, machinery, vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment. Once implemented, our agreement with Panama would immediately eliminate tariffs on 99.9% of recent non-agricultural imports from Canada. The agreement would eliminate tariffs ranging from 5% to 11% on Canadian pharmaceutical exports to Panama, which amounted to $10.8 million last year.
Canadian machinery and automotive exports to Panama are currently subjected to tariffs as high as 15% to 20% respectively. Under the free trade agreement these barriers would be eliminated.
In these challenging economic times, when our manufacturing sector benefits, the country benefits.
In the forestry sector the Canada-Panama free trade agreement would eliminate tariffs as high as 15% on a range of wood and paper products, creating new opportunities for Canadians in the export of lumber, plywood, books, packaging materials and other products.
Here at home the forestry industry accounts for approximately 12% of Canada's manufacturing GDP and directly employs 230,000 Canadians. As the Forest Products Association of Canada has said, it is the economic lifeblood of over 200 communities in our country. Our government is working to ensure that industries like this one that contribute so much to our economy have access to growing markets like Panama and have the ability to make the most of the opportunities there.
In terms of our agricultural trade, Canadian producers exported $23.6 million of agriculture and agrifood products into Panama in 2009, and there is room to improve.
Panama currently applies tariffs on many agricultural products, some as high as 20%. Once implemented, the free trade agreement would immediately eliminate tariffs on goods accounting for 94% of Canada's agricultural exports to Panama. This would benefit Canadian farmers countrywide, including exporters of frozen french fries, pulses, malt, oilseeds, beef and pork products, maple syrup and Christmas trees.
Canada Pork International has gone on record that Panama is one of the Canadian pork producers' top 15 markets. Approximately $5 million worth of pork products are exported there each year. They support the Canada-Panama free trade agreement and have emphasized the importance of moving ahead with this agreement to take advantage of entering a market ahead of our largest competitors.
The benefits of having access to the Panamanian market do not end with our agricultural and non-agricultural goods, producers and exporters. A free trade agreement with Panama would also improve access for Canadian service providers looking to enter this dynamic and growing market. Panama is a services-oriented economy and some in Canada's service sector have already established operations there.
In 2008, our commercial services exports to Panama totalled $12 million. This includes those providing financial services, engineering and professional services, information and communication technology services, and others.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would help Canadian service providers expand their operations, pursue new opportunities, and keep pace with their competitors.
In its services negotiations, Canada obtained access beyond Panama's World Trade Organization commitments, particularly in areas of export interest to Canada, including mining services, energy services and environmental services. This means preferential access for Canadian service providers in sectors where Canada has expertise to share.
The Canada-Panama free trade agreement would also establish new rules to govern trade in services, ensuring the secure, predictable and equitable treatment of service providers from both countries.
This is to ensure that a company such as SNC Lavalin, which is leading a consortium to build a $4 billion copper mine in Panama, owned by Inmet, a Canadian mining company, will directly benefit from this agreement.
We are making our way through some difficult economic times. Many hard-working Canadians are looking for us to show leadership on the economy, promote sustainable economic improvements, and create opportunities for job growth. Our government has made a commitment to do just that, to help Canadians capitalize on their expertise and expand into new and exciting markets.
Canada's producers, exporters and service providers are constantly faced with fierce competition, and we must do what we can to ensure they compete on even ground with their competitors.
We must continue to reduce barriers to trade and negotiate competitive terms of access in global markets. We must show the world that Canada's businesses are second to none.
A free trade agreement with Panama would help to do this.
For all of these reasons, I call on all hon. members in this House, including the members of the NDP, to support Bill .
In the time remaining, I would like to summarize some of the highlights of this bill. There are a couple that we cannot ignore.
We cannot ignore the increased traffic that will go through Panama after it is finished twinning the Panama Canal. We can look at that as an obstruction, a challenge, or we can look at that as an opportunity. Quite frankly, I look at it as an opportunity. There is no reason that increased flow of traffic cannot feed our container ports on the west coast and east coast of Canada.
We simply do not have to wait for the European Union or the United States to sign free trade agreements before we come in a day late and a dollar short. We are leading the way, we are promoting Canadian businesses, and we intend to continue.
Madam Speaker, first, I must talk about the amendments proposed by my colleague. He is asking that numerous clauses be deleted, yet he said that they are key clauses. Frankly, that is a problem.
He is asking that clause 7 be deleted, but that clause sets out the purpose of the bill. If the description of the purpose of the bill is taken out, I think that poses a bit of a problem. He is also asking that clause 10 be deleted. That clause contains institutional and administrative provisions. Without these kinds of clauses, there would be no bill.
He is also asking that clause 12 be deleted. This clause deals with panels, working groups and other people involved in administering this bill, particularly in terms of labour and the environment. I know that those topics are extremely important to my colleague. In addition, he is asking that clause 63 be deleted, but that contains the coming into force provision. Without these clauses, there is no bill, and frankly, I feel that my colleague is playing games here in the House. We have already discussed these issues in committee.
I will now say that we will not support the amendments, and I would like to take a bit more time to talk about the bill, as currently drafted.
I just briefly explained why we do not support the amendments proposed by my colleague. In effect, they were already proposed and dealt with in committee, and were they to be put into effect they would effectively destroy the bill. As much as I respect my colleague, I find this a bit of an abuse of time in the House of Commons; it really is playing games. I would rather we dealt with the substance of the legislation, the implementation of a free trade agreement with Panama. I am pleased to say that the Liberal Party is in support of this particular bill.
I will provide members with some statistics. In 2008, Panama had one of the highest real GDP growth rates in the Americas, at 10.7%. Despite the global economic downturn, Panama posted positive growth in 2009, at 2.4%, a trend that was expected to continue in 2010. We await confirmation of those numbers.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently under way and slated to be completed by 2014, at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. This expansion alone is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in such areas as infrastructure and construction, as well as environmental, heavy engineering and consulting services, capital projects, human capital development and construction materials. Like the free trade agreements between Canada, Chile and Costa Rica, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the free trade agreement proposed with Jordan but not yet ratified for a number of reasons, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour cooperation and the environment.
Panama is indeed a relatively small economy. We would prefer that Canada were able to pursue multilateral trade negotiations through the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, those negotiations have come to an effective standstill. We do support the efforts to engage in negotiations for bilateral trade agreements, including with Panama.
Although Panama is a relatively small economy, in 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to that country, which maybe is not as much as to some trading partners, but it is fairly significant for those enterprises, the agricultural, agrifood, construction, and a variety of other sectors in that country. The $90 million is a significant amount of business, and this trade deal stands to significantly increase that figure.
Panama is also a stable country that has made significant progress in recent years in development and democracy, which Canada is well placed to continue to encourage. This is a significant aspect of our trade philosophy.
Freer trade encourages a freer flow of information and a freer flow of ideas. Rather than building walls, freer trade opens windows through which light comes through, and opens doors through which Canadians can engage on all sorts of levels with others. If we isolate countries, our capacity to engage on human rights or to discuss issues, such as the one we and others have raised today, the issue of tax havens, we only reduce our ability to engage with and help those countries improve.
Panama has engaged in significant efforts through the OECD to enhance its activities and its reputation internationally. I believe we stand in a very good position to encourage rather than discourage that effort.
We support this bill. Despite concerns about the current lack of a double taxation treaty and a tax information exchange agreement between Canada and Panama, we should support this bill.
I want to emphasize the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have already begun to work on a tax agreement. Panama has asked that we implement an agreement to avoid double taxation, while Canada would prefer an agreement about exchanging tax information. However, the two governments are in talks to set up a tax agreement.
Although there have been some concerns raised about the suggestion that Panama acts as or provides a tax haven and money-laundering opportunities, the Government of Panama and the Government of Canada have worked very hard so far to establish an agreement on the exchange of tax information.
In the first instance, Panama asked Canada to enter into an agreement to eliminate double taxation. Canada responded by asking instead for an agreement on the exchange of information with regard to taxes. Panama came back and said no. It said that it would prefer a double tax treaty. It should be stressed that the traditional OECD model of a tax treaty, which is the one Canada always signs, has a full article dealing with the exchange of tax information.
We support the bill for two reasons. First, it would provide significant improvements to opportunities for Canadian enterprises and therefore encourage Canadian jobs. Second, because Panama does not have a trade agreement right now with the United States, we heard a number of witnesses at committee stress how the United States is worried about Canada signing this deal because of the significant competitive advantage that it will provide to those very Canadian enterprises. I will include agriculture, agri-food and construction. Earlier in my speech, I outlined a number of the areas in which we would stand to benefit.
That significant competitive advantage for Canadian enterprises, given the lack of a similar agreement so far with the Americans, given the pressure on the American government to sign such an agreement and given the fact that the Canadian and Panamanian governments have been working toward a tax agreement of one kind or another that would provide information on the exchange of tax information, has strongly provided the basis for our support of this bill and for the conclusion and ratification of the free trade agreement with Panama.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois at this stage of Bill .
Amendments have been proposed, and some of our colleagues have claimed that they gut the bill. It is exactly for that reason that we support these amendments.
This bill would implement a free trade agreement with Panama, which is not a good agreement. Many people, both Conservatives and Liberals, have spoken about the economic advantages. However, we cannot deny, and I believe we must acknowledge, that Panama continues to be a tax haven in the eyes of the OECD. Panama has not been taken off the OECD's grey list of tax havens.
Apparently, Panama has taken steps to be removed from this list, but that has not yet happened. Panama still has to conclude agreements and tax treaties with certain countries. Canada would be able to verify or monitor tax evasion by Canadian citizens if it signed a tax information exchange agreement with Panama.
When the bill was being studied, we heard that the or the , I do not remember which one, had written to his counterpart in Panama about negotiating and signing such an agreement. The committee asked different witnesses on a number of occasions if Panama had agreed. To date, we have not been given an answer. We even heard a representative of the Government of Panama tell us, at the Standing Committee on International Trade, that it was not in the interests of his government to enter into a tax information exchange agreement with Canada.
If it is not in the interests of the Government of Panama, why is the Canadian government so intent, despite everything, on going ahead with this free trade agreement and passing an implementation bill, when that would mean giving away all our bargaining power with respect to Panama?
It is because we have given in to Panama. We have given in and will allow it to have free rein so that Panama can tax Canadian businesses. It has said that it wants to sign a double taxation agreement, which really means a no tax agreement. Canadian businesses will be able to repatriate profits to Canada, tax-free, and pay minimum tax in Panama. That is absolutely unbelievable.
The Canada Revenue Agency cannot even say estimate how much tax revenue it will lose because of such an agreement, how much tax leakage the middle class will have to make up through their work and their own taxes.
It is absolutely incredible that we are moving forward with such an agreement. That is why the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the proposed amendments. At least some attempts have been made to improve the bill. In committee, it was proposed that Canada and the Republic of Panama ratify a tax information exchange agreement, based on the OECD model agreement on the effective exchange of tax information, that would not cause Canada to lose tax revenue.
The Conservatives and the Liberals voted against that idea. They could at least have said they want to conclude a free trade agreement with Panama. As many have pointed out, such an agreement might not be such a bad idea.
However, if we end up losing revenue and promoting tax evasion and money laundering, I think that ethically speaking, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.
Should we continue to move forward with this? The Bloc Québécois says no. We absolutely must wait and see whether this possible agreement could be used as a negotiating tool and as a way to put pressure on Panama to get off the OECD's grey list of tax havens and sign a tax information exchange agreement with Canada. That would be fairer for Canada.
I want to come back to the testimony of Richard Montroy, a Canada Revenue Agency senior manager who testified at the Standing Committee on International Trade on November 17. We asked him whether companies could still bring tax-free profits back to Canada when there is a tax information exchange agreement in addition to a free trade agreement. He said yes.
In other words, there will always be companies bringing money back home no matter what. However, if we had all the tax information on Canadians and their investments in certain countries, we could recover some of the money that is eluding the Canada Revenue Agency.
That is not the case. The government has given up. The Bloc Québécois thinks we absolutely must support these amendments, go back to the drawing board and wait until Panama does its homework before moving forward.