moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in the House today to the Canada-Panama free trade act.
Pursuing trade agreements is essential to bringing continued prosperity to Canadians. And this is why the implementation of free trade agreements is a priority for the Government of Canada and demonstrates our commitment to helping Canadian businesses compete in markets abroad.
As the world economies recover, expanding trade and investment relationships to improve market access is more important than ever. By opening our markets and pursuing greater market access abroad, we are sending a clear message that protectionism is not the way to achieve global stability and prosperity. By improving access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses, we are supporting domestic economic growth and creating new opportunities for Canadian workers.
Our government knows that Canada's long-term prosperity is driven by the ingenuity and creativity of hard-working families, small business owners and entrepreneurs across the country.
Canada’s exporters, investors and service providers are calling for these opportunities. Business owners and entrepreneurs want access to global markets, and this government is listening.
Canada made the big jump into free trade with our free trade agreement with the United States. Many in the House will remember the 1988 election and how that very much gripped the country. It was perhaps the only election in my lifetime thoroughly dominated by policy, not personalities, not advertising campaigns, but by substance, and one policy in particular, that of free trade.
As a result of that great debate and the subsequent results, the success of free trade with the United States, that debate is very much a settled question in Canada now. Canadians embrace free trade. Our trade with the United States has doubled since that time and our trade with Mexico, as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, has increased almost five times.
There are true Conservative roots in the commitment to free trade. After we ceased to be government, for the next 13 years our predecessors were somewhat reluctant to embrace free trade, notwithstanding its apparent success. Three new free trade agreements were negotiated, however, in that time with Chile, Costa Rica and Israel.
Since we formed the government again in 2006, we have pursued an aggressive and ambitious free trade agenda, including commencing renegotiation of our free trade agreements with Chile and Costa Rica to make them much more comprehensive and ambitious.
We have also concluded, in just a little more than four years, new free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Jordan and the European Free Trade Association countries of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein. We also have seen, through these agreements, in a very short period of time significant victories for Canadian workers and Canadian entrepreneurs.
We are continuing to look ahead to other key global partners, including, for example, the European Union. Our free trade agreement with the European Union would represent the most significant Canadian trade initiative since the North American free trade agreement.
The study that was done before we began our European Union negotiations indicated an annual benefit to the Canadian economy of some $12 billion a year from such an agreement. That is a boost that our Canadian workers and our Canadian economy really need to see. That is why we are excited that that negotiation is proceeding very positively. A fifth round of negotiations will take place next month right here in Ottawa. We are optimistic that we will have an agreement in place by the end of 2011.
What will be notable about that agreement is that it will be the very first free trade agreement the European Union will have negotiated with a developed economy, putting Canada in the very enviable position of being the only major developed economy in the world with a free trade agreement with both the United States and the European Union, the two biggest economies in the world, a tremendous platform on which our businesses and our workers can succeed.
However, we are also committed to advancing our ongoing free trade negotiations with other partners, including Ukraine; the Central American four of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador; the Caribbean community countries; and the Dominican Republic.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of hosting here in Ottawa my counterpart, Anand Sharma, the minister of commerce and industry from India. At that time, we released publicly a study into the possibilities of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, a free trade agreement between Canada and India. That study showed that if we were successful in achieving such an agreement, the annual boost to the Canadian economy would be between $6 billion and $15 billion a year with similar annual benefits to the Indian economy. We are in the process now of putting together the negotiating mandate we need to be able to undertake those kinds of discussions.
As members can see, our government is firmly committed to free trade. However, the United States will remain, certainly for my lifetime, the major priority of Canada in free trade as 70% of our trade is with the United States and it is a relationship we must constantly tend to. We did that when we became the only country in the world to achieve a waiver from the buy American provisions of the U.S. stimulus program, and we continue to stand up for Canadian businesses and protect our access to that critical market. That will remain our number one priority.
However, we have three major initiatives underway: first, the European Union free trade talks, as I addressed; second, our initiative with regard to India, which looks very positive at this point in time; and third, an effort to carve out for Canada a role in the Americas, not dissimilar to the one Australia already has with regard to the Asian marketplace.
We can see that falling into place. We have our existing free trade agreements with Chile and Costa Rica, which are being improved and enhanced by this government. We have the free trade agreement implemented with Peru and the recently passed free trade agreement with Colombia. We have had negotiations with the Dominican Republic, the countries of the Caribbean community, and the Central American four. Altogether, we can see that Canada is working very hard to achieve that special, privileged position of having a dominant free trading position within the Americas.
Indeed, it is as part of that overall strategy of being a key trading country in our hemisphere, on which the has spoken, that we also now add the concept of a free trade agreement with Panama.
I was very proud and pleased to sign that agreement in May with Roberto Henríquez, my counterpart, and now I am pleased that we are commencing debate on it in the House of Commons.
The government is dedicated to pursuing trade relationships that work for Canadians. In addition to these markets, Canadian businesses have long been asking for closer ties to Panama—an innovative, dynamic economy, and a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
That is why we have negotiated, concluded and signed last May a free trade agreement with Panama.
Panama has had one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas. Its real gross domestic product growth in 2008 was 10.7%. Even during the economic downturn it posted positive growth in 2009. Panama's real gross domestic product is expected to rise even further in 2010.
Panama is also a strategic hub for the region. It is also an important logistical platform for commercial activity. As a link between two great oceans, Panama, and of course the historic and well-understood Panama Canal, is vital to global trade.
We know that Canadian businesses and workers across a number of sectors can compete and win in the Panamanian marketplace. And the Canada-Panama free trade agreement will help them do that. This agreement is a good deal for Canadian companies, in particular for goods exporters.
Our exporters have been active in the Panamanian market. In 2009, Canada's two-way merchandise trade with Panama was $132.1 million, and our trade has been largely complementary. Upon implementation of the free trade agreement, things will improve significantly. Panama will immediately lift tariffs on some 99.9% of all non-agricultural imports from Canada, with the remaining tariffs to be phased out over five to 15 years. Tariffs will also be lifted immediately on 94% of Canada's agricultural exports to Panama.
These outcomes directly benefit a number of sectors that already have established business ties in Panama, including agriculture and agri-food products, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, vehicles, machinery, and information and communications technology products, among others.
We are also pleased that Panama has recognized Canada's inspection systems for beef and pork and has removed its previous ban on Canadian beef.
Canadian service providers will also benefit from the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Panama is a service-oriented economy. Canada has expertise in sectors such as financial, engineering, mining and petroleum extractive services, construction and environmental services—areas where there are opportunities for growth into the Panamanian market. And the agreement ensures the secure, predictable and equitable treatment of service providers from both countries.
With the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, we are helping Canadian service providers thrive.
Panama is also an established destination for Canadian direct investment abroad. At the end of 2008, the stock of Canadian direct investment in Panama totalled $93 million.
Canadian companies are choosing to invest in this market in areas such as banking and financial services, construction and mining. And they will benefit from the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. This deal will provide greater stability, transparency and protection for Canadian investments in Panama.
Government procurement has also been a key priority in our deepening trade relationship with Panama. One of the key drivers is the ongoing Panama Canal expansion and its associated projects. The Panama Canal makes Panama a natural centre for global trade. In fact, Panama handles 5% of global trade and has some of the world's largest export processing zones. The planned Panama Canal expansion, which is actually under construction, is only reinforcing its position as a nexus for international importers and exporters.
The canal expansion is a $5.3 billion project. It provides numerous opportunities to Canadian businesses through subcontracts and satellite projects, which will be further consolidated by this free trade agreement. We are calling on the opposition to consider and approve this free trade agreement very quickly so that our workers and our businesses can profit from the opportunities that exist right now.
The government procurement provisions in the Canada-Panama free trade agreement guarantee that Canadian suppliers will have non-discriminatory access to a broad range of procurement opportunities, including those under the Panama Canal Authority. Projects, including those associated with the canal expansion, may also lead to increased goods exports from Canadian manufacturers that have expertise in infrastructure.
We are also proud of the work done to protect labour rights and environmental responsibilities. Of course, in general, freer trade and increased prosperity have been shown to aid in improving human development indices. Of course, we have with this agreement, as we have had with others, parallel accords dealing with labour and the environment.
For all these reasons, the Panama agreement is a good deal for Canada, but it is also a good deal because it ensures that Canada remains competitive in the Panamanian marketplace. Panama has an active trade agenda with many partners, including the United States and the European Union. For this reason, time is, as I said, of the essence. Any delay of this bill would hurt Canadian businesses that are eager to compete and capitalize on the opportunities in Panama.
If Canada can establish access to the Panamanian market before our competitors take hold, it will give our companies an advantage, a real foothold, in doing business there.
Panama is also negotiating a trade agreement with Colombia and is exploring trade deals with the European Free Trade Association, the Caribbean community, Peru, Korea, and others.
Clearly other countries are noticing Panama’s potential, and they are looking to take advantage of this strong and growing market. That is why it is important for this government to take action now. And it is why I ask for the support of all honourable members for the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, and the parallel labour co-operation and environment agreements.
I am a great believer that free trade is one of the reasons Canada has been performing better than many other major competing economies. We have been leading the major developed economies of the G7 in economic growth. We are unique among those economies in having replaced or restored, through our job growth, all of the jobs that were lost at the start of the economic downturn. We are again in the distinct position of having the lowest debt and the lowest deficit, as a proportion of our economy, of any of those major economies.
We have, of course, as we all know, the soundest banking system in the world, as has been confirmed repeatedly by the World Economic Forum.
The reason for this success is not just the sound policies adopted by the government on fiscal responsibility and appropriate stimulus when required. It is also because of our approach to opening marketplaces and opportunities for our workers and our businesses.
Free trade is a reason for Canada's prosperity and Canada's success. It is the reason we are working so ambitiously to put in place opportunities for Canadian workers all around the world. Our free trade agreement with Panama is part of that plan. It is part of our strategic approach to the region of the Americas and to this hemisphere, and it is one reason Canadian workers and businesses can expect to succeed more in the future and enjoy greater prosperity in the future.
Those are all good reasons why this should be supported in the House of Commons.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his graciousness in welcoming me as his new critic for international trade.
I rise to speak today in support of Bill , and to having it reviewed at committee.
I am pleased to participate in a debate that, unusually for this House in recent times, should be relatively free of heated partisan rhetoric. As the representative of the official opposition, we support the passing of this bill for many of the same reasons that members sitting on the government's side of the House support it.
Indeed, this is the second time in only three days that we have had this opportunity. It mirrors our recent debate on similar trade agreements with Jordan, which have now been referred to committee. We should take advantage of these opportunities to agree when they come along, as they so rarely do.
However, I will also be raising some concerns about the government's lack of action on increasing U.S. protectionism and its failure to seize trade opportunities in China, South Korea, and other countries.
Canada is now experiencing the first trade deficits it has seen in 30 years. Indeed, the country set a trade-deficit record this July, $2.7 billion. Something is going seriously wrong and we must challenge the government hard on why this is and what we can do about it.
I will also mention that, although we in the Liberal Party want to see even harder work on multilateral trade negotiations, we also recognize the practicalities and challenges this task entails. In the absence of progress on the multilateral level, we in the Liberal Party encourage Canada to work at the bilateral level to enhance our trade with as many other countries as possible.
Canada is a nation that supports free trade. Our origins are those of a trading nation, starting with fur, wood, and other natural resources. The portion of our economic activity attributable to trade is greater than that of most other nations. Indeed, 80% of our economy and millions of Canadian jobs depend upon trade and our ability to access foreign markets.
Canadian exporters benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs on their goods destined for other countries. Canadian manufacturers benefit from the reduction and elimination of tariffs at the Canadian border of the various materials that go into their products. Canadian consumers benefit from lower prices of imported goods when tariffs on those goods are reduced or eliminated.
Although there will always be debate about protectionism and what steps best promote Canadian business success and generate Canadian jobs, most Canadian businesses that serve domestic markets benefit from free trade in being forced to innovate and compete with others from abroad, provided that those abroad comply with international rules on trade, tariffs, and non-tariff barriers.
In the long run, Canadian businesses are more than capable of being strong, innovative, and competitive without hiding behind protectionist walls.
I am proud to rise here today to take part in this debate and show my support, on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, for Bill .
The Conservative government's mismanagement of Canada's trade relations has led to the first trade deficits we have seen in over 30 years. We need to increase our efforts and our engagement in order to improve the situation and increase international trade between Canada and other countries around the world.
Canada depends on trade. It is worth noting that 80% of our economy relies on access to export markets. The Liberal Party supports the principle of free trade, and it also supports any initiatives that will improve access to foreign markets for Canadian businesses. Although Panama has a small economy and Canada's existing trade with that country is relatively limited, there are opportunities for Canadian businesses.
In 2008, Panama had one of the highest real GDP growth rates in the Americas at 10.7%. Despite the global economic downturn, Panama posted positive growth in 2009 at 2.4%, a trend that is expected to continue in 2010.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is currently under way and is slated to be completed by 2014 at a projected cost of $5.3 billion. This expansion is expected to generate opportunities for Canadian companies in such areas as infrastructure and construction, as well as environmental, heavy engineering and consulting services, capital projects, human capital development and construction materials.
Like the free trade agreements between Canada, Chile and Costa Rica, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the free trade agreement with Jordan, the Canada-Panama free trade agreement includes side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement recognizes both countries’ obligations under the International Labour Organization's Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which requires both countries to ensure that laws, regulations and national practices protect the following rights: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced labour and the elimination of discrimination.
The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement and the agreement on the environment both include complaints and dispute resolution processes that enable members of the public to request an investigation into perceived failures of Canada or Panama to comply with these agreements.
The free trade agreement with Panama is another opportunity to increase access to more markets for Canadian farmers and business.
Yes, Panama is a relatively small economy. In 2009 we exported $90 million in goods to the country, which is not as large as with some trading partners. It is, however, a stable country which has made significant progress in recent years in terms of development and democracy, which Canada is well-placed to continue to encourage.
In spite of the global economic downturn, Panama's GDP grew at 10.7% in 2008, one of the highest in the Americas, and is forecast at 5.6% for 2010. In 2009 bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $132.1 million, Canadian exports making up $91.4 million of that and imports, $40.7 million.
Primary Canadian merchandise exports to Panama include machinery, vehicles, electronic equipment, pharmaceutical equipment, pulses and frozen potato products. Canadian service exports include financial services, engineering, information and communications technology services. Merchandise imports from Panama include precious stones and metals, mainly gold, fruits and nuts, fish and seafood products.
The existing Panama Canal, vital for the international trading system, is undergoing a massive expansion, with completion slated for 2014. The $5.3 billion expansion is already generating business for Canadian companies in construction, environmental, engineering and consulting services, capital projects and more, and is expected to generate even more over the next while, helped by this free trade agreement.
Canada will immediately eliminate over 99% of its tariffs on current imports from Panama.
The free trade agreement also addresses non-tariff barriers by adopting measures to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of imported goods, promoting good regulatory practices, transparency and the use of international standards.
On labour and environment, like most of Canada's free trade agreements, this free trade agreement includes agreements on the environment and labour co-operation that will help promote sustainability and protect labour rights. The Canada-Panama labour co-operation agreement recognizes both countries' obligations under the International Labour Organization, the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, including the protection of the following rights: the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination.
Both the labour co-operation agreement and the agreement on the environment include complaints and dispute resolution processes that enable members of the public to request an investigation to perceived failures of either Canada or Panama to comply with these agreements.
I have a few words on human rights.
Although it is not the issue here, as it was in the debate over free trade with Colombia, the question of human rights will always come up in the House when we debate free trade agreements, and rightly so, sometimes more than others. As I have said in the House a number of times, it is a good thing that Canadian members of Parliament are concerned about international human rights and I have noted that, regardless of what party we sit for, we all want full human rights for everyone around the world.
We do, however, from time to time disagree on what Canada can do to further that goal. Some of my colleagues will say that putting up walls and preventing more open trade and engagement will somehow help, that somehow, Canada wagging its finger at other states rather than fully engaging will miraculously be listened to. I am afraid that that is not how the world works.
Freer trade encourages freer flow of information and freer flows of ideas. Rather than building walls, freer trade opens windows through which light gets in and opens doors through which Canadians can engage on all sorts of levels with others. If we isolate a country, our capacity to engage in human rights is in fact reduced.
Economic engagement increases our ability to engage in other areas, such as education and culture. All of that engagement increases the capacity to engage in the area of human rights. It gives Canadians a greater opportunity, through businesspeople, customers, clients and other engagements that can flow from those relationships, to show by example, not in a paternalistic, finger-wagging, we-know-best attitude, but rather showing by examples how things work so well for us in Canada and our willingness to share, on a friendly basis, those examples.
As I have said many times, it is the citizens of a particular state who are responsible for improvements in their state, not Canada. Canadians have a wonderful opportunity to engage with those citizens, in exposing what works in other parts of the world, in particular here, where we are proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our successfully pluralistic society and our peace, order and good government approach to governance.
Although we do not have the heightened level of concern with respect to Panama as we had with Colombia, I will take the opportunity to commend my Liberal colleague, the member for , my predecessor in the role of critic for international trade, for the excellent work he did with the human rights amendment to the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Under that Liberal-negotiated deal, Canada and Colombia must publicly measure the impact to free trade on human rights in both countries, the first trade deal in the world that requires ongoing human rights impact assessments. Again, I commend my colleague from for his excellent work in this regard.
All of this goes to my support and my party's support for Bill and the free trade agreement with Panama. Greater economic engagement helps us all economically, for more jobs and more prosperity for Canada, yes, but for both countries, and free trade is, in this case, a win-win opportunity.
At this point, however, I wish to highlight some real concerns about the Conservative government's approach to international trade. We are losing the concept of free trade with our biggest trading partner to the south, the United States. When the recession hit, the United States government responded with protectionism, in putting forth its buy American policies and tighter rules. The Conservative government initially stood by watching, as if it did not know what hit it. It engaged in photo ops in Washington, not realizing the battle needed to be fought all across the states, at the state level.
By the time a so-called exemption was worked out, which in and of itself required significant concessions by Canadian provinces, the protectionism in the United States had already hurt many Canadian businesses, costing Canadian jobs. Even the so-called exemption only covers 37 states, a great example of how it is not just Washington that must be engaged.
Despite our vociferous efforts to get the Conservative government to engage much more forcefully at the state level, the government just did not seem to understand either the whats of the negative effects on Canadian business, or the hows of fixing the problem, and here we are again. The United States is threatening more protectionist legislation, the foreign manufacturers legal accountability act, which although not technically aimed at Canada, would significantly hurt many Canadian businesses and affect many Canadian jobs.
However, the minister's response was no action whatsoever. Instead he says, "Gee, it's too bad, we're always collateral damage in the battles between the United States and China”. Then he says, “We're hoping that it does not reach the vote state before the U.S. elections”. Then he says, “If it passes, we'll probably seek an exemption for Canadian companies”.
With all respect, it simply is not enough to dismiss Canada as collateral damage, or to merely hope that protectionist legislation will not pass. Just like last time, we urge the government to get its hands dirty, to get on the ground, not only in Washington but across the states, to ensure that Canada is exempted from this very damaging proposed legislation before it happens. Canadian businesses need something done to prevent this from happening, not just some vague hopes and prayers.
I also want to use this opportunity in the debate on the merits of free trade to exhort the government to do much more in its dealings with China, South Korea and others. I acknowledge the announcement and production of the report this last week between Canada and India, and I am encouraged this as moving in the right direction. However, having just returned from China and Korea, I am overwhelmed by the growth, the size, the pace and the scale of what is happening over there. At the same time, I am dismayed by how little the Canadian government is doing to capitalize on the extraordinary growth and scale that presents such fantastic opportunities for so many Canadians.
There are incredible investments being made in infrastructure, water, sewage treatment and public transit. We have been told repeatedly by the Chinese that they are looking for green technology, for forestry products, for investments in the financial services industries. There are tremendous opportunities for trade in educational services, in co-operation and engagement not just at the Canada-China level, but provincially and municipally. My colleagues should understand that I do not suggest for a minute that the federal government impinge upon those jurisdictions, but rather stress that we in Canada could work much more co-operatively and productively by engaging all orders of government in a concerted effort to take much more advantage of the opportunities that these extraordinary economies offer to Canadians.
We in the Liberal Party have stressed and will continue to stress the importance of Canada in the world. In support of this, we have proposed the concept of global networks. We say that the older, simpler concept of trade and commerce on its own, of simple export and import of goods and services, should be expanded to include all kinds of engagement on all levels, such as education, culture and environmental co-operation, a much greater engagement, a much broader engagement, and exchange of people and ideas.
Canada should be taking advantage of these extraordinary opportunities that the world and other growing, bustling economies and societies offer, opportunities which the Conservative government just does not seem to understand.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill to implement the agreement negotiated by representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade with the Government of Panama. We oppose this free trade agreement. It is not that the Bloc Québécois is against free trade and free trade agreements, but in this case, there are strong reasons that justify our opposition.
Panama has one of the most well-developed economies in Central America. However, the Bloc Québécois does not believe we should ratify a free trade agreement with Panama when it is still on the OECD's grey list of tax havens. Every country turns to that organization for that list; it is used as a reference. People at the OECD evaluate different criteria with regard to tax havens, which I will say more about later.
We asked departmental representatives a few questions. They said that Canada is currently negotiating a tax treaty with Panama in order to tighten the rules on banking transparency to better combat tax evasion. However, there is no mention anywhere of such a treaty with Panama in the Department of Finance's register of tax treaties currently in effect or under negotiation.
It is clear to us that Panama is still on the OECD grey list and France's blacklist of countries that promote tax evasion. That is the major reason we oppose such an agreement.
The other reason we object to implementing this free trade agreement is that we do not get the impression that workers' rights are very well protected in Panama. In June 2010, the right-wing government of Ricardo Martinelli passed Law 30, which is considered to be anti-union. This law is said to include labour code reform that is seen as repressive since it would criminalize workers who demonstrate to defend their rights.
On August 5, the Panamanian government agreed to review this law, but we have every reason to be concerned about the desire of the Martinelli government to respect the conventions of the International Labour Organization integrated into the side agreement on labour standards.
For these two major reasons—which we will look at again in more detail—we believe that we should delay the ratification of the free trade agreement, in light of the adoption of Law 30, with which the Panamanian government has taken a real step backwards.
Although two days ago we were talking about the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement—Bill —which we were in favour of, we do not agree with the Conservative government's strategy of focusing on bilateral agreements instead of multilateral ones, which are preferred by the Bloc, as we said yesterday.
The Bloc Québécois believes that a multilateral approach is more effective for the development of more equitable trade that protects the interests of all nations.
I would like to come back to the issue of respect for human and labour rights in Panama. Human rights are guaranteed by the Constitution, and in general, they are respected. That is a fact. However, the judicial system still has a number of problems in Panama, including the conditions of imprisonment, the length of preventive detention, corruption, and the lack of independence of the judicial system. In rural areas, there are problems with child labour and with indigenous communities and marginalized ethnic minorities, as well as discrimination against women.
In recent months, Panama has seen a wave of what is considered to be anti-union repression. Sources estimate that between two and six people died, and about a hundred were injured during violent protests that followed the June 2010 adoption of Law 30, known as the “sausage bill”, because it contains all kinds of reforms, such as reforms to the labour code and to environmental legislation.
The reform of the labour code is seen as repressive, because it would make it a crime for workers to demonstrate to defend their rights.
Some of the country's environmental groups submitted an application for support to the UN environment program to convince the Panamanian government to review changes that will diminish the state's ability to preserve its natural resources.
Unions have asked for support from the international labour federations while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is asking for an investigation of police brutality during protests against Law 30 in July 2010. According to our sources, the Panamanian government is conducting its own investigation.
On July 14, 2010, the International Trade Union Confederation, together with its affiliated organizations in Panama, firmly condemned violent repression of the strike movement by workers and demanded the immediate repeal of “the controversial Law 30, which has become a licence to kill for the police, creating a climate of extreme violence” among the people. I am quoting from the article entitled “New Panamanian Law Threatens Environment and Human Rights.”
On August 5, the Panamanian government agreed to review the law. We should monitor this issue before going any further. Otherwise, after signing the agreement, Canadian corporations may find that they are damaging the environment or contravening the International Labour Organization's core convention, C87. That is rather important.
I will now return to the issue of Panama being a tax haven on France's blacklist and the OECD grey list. The latter lists countries that have committed to exchanging tax information but that have not substantially implemented the rules.
Section 26 of the OECD model tax convention provides the most generally accepted standard for the bilateral exchange of tax information.
There is no indication, on the Department of Finance web site of treaties and conventions, that an information exchange agreement is being negotiated with Panama.
Before entering into the Canada-Panama free trade agreement, the Conservative government absolutely must sign a tax information exchange agreement with Panama and this agreement must not allow subsidiaries located in the targeted jurisdictions to be tax exempt.
Obviously, it is important that this agreement be concluded, negotiated, drafted and signed before finalizing the free trade agreement. It is also clear that, under such an agreement, corporations cannot use their presence in Panama to justify tax evasion. For the Bloc Québécois, it is entirely inconceivable that we would be associated with such a practice.
With this free trade agreement, we will likely see more trade and a significant increase in Canadian investment in Panama. We will see more taxpayers, both individuals and businesses, earning income in both Canada and in Panama. That is why it is essential for the Government of Canada and Panama to sign the type of information exchange agreements I was talking about earlier.
Since Panama is a tax haven, such a free trade agreement would become an invitation to evade taxes, or use loopholes in the law to help a taxpayer avoid paying a tax he or she normally should.
At the end of the day, should a free trade agreement promote tax evasion? It is a very serious question because we would not want Canada to inadvertently promote investments that encourage tax evasion under the pretext of concluding more trade agreements and lowering taxes. That makes absolutely no sense.
For example, a company whose income would be legally taxed according to the rate in effect in Panama would be tempted to set up a business structure to take advantage of this near-zero tax rate.
The Conservative government is already signing tax treaties with tax havens and we all know it. The Bloc Québécois absolutely believes that we need to be vigilant because in June 2010 the government signed tax information exchange agreements based on the OECD model with eight jurisdictions: Bahamas, Bermuda, Dominica, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
This information tells us that we absolutely must be careful; the Conservative government absolutely must avoid putting Canada in a position, once again, of promoting tax evasion, when there are plenty of workers in Quebec and Canada who can barely manage because they have to pay their taxes.
In La Presse on July 6, 2010, we read:
In return for these agreements, Canada seems to have given these jurisdictions an advantage. Subsidiaries of active Canadian companies domiciled in these islands can effectively repatriate their foreign profits to Canada tax free.
Bermuda, Bahamas and the other islands will thereby have a similar status to Barbados, which has been the only tax haven to have this privilege.
It is high time we gave ourselves a real policy of multilateralism.
The current course of globalization, a phenomenon bearing both great hope and great injustice, must be redirected. Disparity between rich and poor, the failure to respect rights and freedoms and the lack of regulations on the environment and labour give rise more to despair than to hope.
Openness to trade and the establishment of international regulations to counter protectionism and protect investment are good things that the Bloc supports. That does not mean that trade rules should have precedence over the common good and the ability of governments to redistribute wealth, to protect their environment and culture and to offer their citizens basic public services such as health care and education. These fundamental elements must always take precedence over any trade that we establish in order to increase our exports. These basic criteria must guide our negotiations and intentions to sign free trade agreements with other countries.
Quebec is a trading nation. Our companies, and especially our cutting-edge companies, could not survive on just the domestic market. International exports account for one-third of Quebec's GDP. If interprovincial trade is added, exports represented 52% of Quebec's GDP in 2005.
Protectionism is not in our interests, and that is why Quebec, and Quebec sovereignists in particular, massively supported the free trade agreement with the United States and then NAFTA.
That is also why the Bloc Québécois was the first party in the House of Commons to call for a free trade agreement with the EU.
Then again, it would be naive and false to claim that everything is just fine, in the best of all possible worlds. While freer trade has led to greater wealth overall, it has also produced its share of losers. And that is unfortunate.
The trade environment has worsened considerably over the last few years, and we must take that factor into account. Between 2003 and 2007, Quebec went from a large trade surplus to a $13 billion deficit. In 2006, every Quebecker therefore consumed $2,000 more than he or she produced. And this only covers our international trade balance; another $5 billion deficit must be added in interprovincial trade, which also made us considerably poorer.
The result of this trade deficit is that our manufacturing sector has become dangerously weak. Between 2003 and 2007, it lost nearly 150,000 jobs, which was nearly all the jobs lost in this sector in Canada, including 65,000 lost since the Conservatives came to power, mainly because of foreign competition and a strong Canadian dollar. Trade liberalization can only be profitable if it is guided by certain rules; otherwise, it is a race to the bottom.
For a long time, Canada's trade policy was simply to improve access to foreign markets. From that perspective, it has been very successful. Today a majority of products, over 80% of world trade, flow freely.
However, we are now beginning to see the downside of unbridled liberalization: heavy pressure on our industry, offshoring and trade agreements that amount to a licence to exploit people and the environment in developing countries. The trade environment has changed in recent years and as far as Quebec is concerned, it is not for the better.
Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in economics and former vice-president of the World Bank, had this to say when he received his honorary doctorate from Université de Louvain on February 3, 2003:
As our interdependence has increased, we have discovered that we need rules to govern the process of globalization and to create institutions to help it function. Unfortunately, these rules are too often established by the rich countries to serve their own interests and especially individual interests within these countries.
The Bloc Québécois is proposing a change in Canada's trade priorities. Canada should now shift its focus from trade liberalization to creating a more level playing field. The Bloc Québécois believes that our trade policy must focus on fair globalization, not the shameless pursuit of profit at the expense of people and the environment.
That is the Bloc Québécois' position on Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
I have to say at the outset, though, that I find it mind-boggling that we are yet again debating a bilateral trade agreement, as if such agreements will somehow magically give us a coherent and smart industrial and economic strategy.
On the contrary, there has been no economic strategy, no real focused trade strategy, and the result has been that most Canadians are worse off now than they were before.
The government simply cannot keep doing these ribbon cuttings for free trade agreements and then expect that its job is done.
This is no small issue. When we look at the last 20 years, since the implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the real income of most Canadian families has gone down, not up. The real incomes of the two-thirds of Canadian families that comprise the middle class and those of the poorest Canadians have gone down right across the country.
The only people who have actually profited and seen an increase in their real income over the past 20 years, when the first of these agreements was implemented, have been the wealthiest of Canadians. The wealthiest 10% have seen their incomes skyrocket. One-fifth of Canadians, the wealthiest 20%, now take home most of the real income in this country.
In fact, as I pointed out in this House on Monday when I spoke about the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement, I remember the arguments being used when the first free trade agreement was being signed between Canada and the U.S. At that time, the management of Stelco, which is now U.S. Steel, a steel manufacturer in my hometown of Hamilton, sent a letter to all the steelworkers in the plant telling them that in the upcoming federal election they should vote for the parties that support free trade because without such a trade deal their jobs would be at stake.
Well, that trade agreement has been in place for decades now and I would defy the government to find a single steelworker who would say that it has been good for his or her job. On the contrary, decent family sustaining jobs are disappearing and they are being replaced by precarious and part-time work.
To imply, therefore, that the free trade agreements that have been brought in by the Liberals and Conservatives have led to instant prosperity is simply false.
Statistics Canada data puts the lie to those pretensions that this is somehow a coherent and smart industrial and economic strategy. Maybe the reason the government is so intent on doing away with the mandatory long form census is that it knows that solid statistical evidence will contradict its mantra of being a good economic manager.
We need to ask about the actual record of the government since it came to power. We saw the softwood lumber sellout, which killed jobs right across this country. We have seen the shipbuilding sellout, where the tiny European country of Liechtenstein actually outmanoeuvred the Conservative government. Of course, there was also the Canada-Colombia free trade deal. All of them point to the fact that the Conservative government's record is abysmal when it comes to protecting Canadian interests.
Meanwhile, our competitors are investing in export promotion support. The United States, Australia and the European Union are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year in providing support for their export industries and promoting their exports.
In Canada, we spent paltry cents on the dollar compared to other countries like Australia. Australia's total budget for export promotion support is half a billion dollars. Our total budget is a few million. This is what is wrong with the government's approach: it simply does not provide the kinds of supports that other major industrialized countries, our competitors, do.
What we in the NDP have been saying ever since the Conservative government came to power is that it needs to change its approach. The government simply cannot go to these free trade agreement ribbon cuttings and expect that its job is done.
Even if these trade agreements were based on fair trade as opposed to the old NAFTA template, do the trade agreements themselves make a difference? Obviously not, because with a number of these bilateral agreements, our exports in places have actually gone down in those markets after the trade deals were signed. In every case, imports from the countries that we have signed with have gone up. In other words, other countries have managed to profit from the agreements signed with Canada but Canada's exports have actually gone down.
How can we sign an agreement and not have a follow-up strategy to bolster our exports?
The problem with the government's approach is not only that it has no industrial strategy but it also does not have an export oriented focus and it is not willing to invest Canadian government funds in the way that other countries do to bolster their industries.
Instead, our government is allowing the wholesale sell-off of Canada's strategic industries: Stelco, Inco, Alcan, Nortel, Falconbridge, and the list goes on. Canada has already ceded control over aluminum, steel and nickel, and now potash is inching its way toward a foreign sale. It is way past time for the to stop rubber-stamping foreign takeovers and start protecting family supporting jobs and our communities.
I am proud that my NDP colleagues and I have been advocating a buy Canadian strategy. We are the only party in the House to do so. While the Liberals and Conservatives make facile attempts to ridicule us for it, countries like France, the United States and Germany are focused on making precisely such investments in key industries. They are essential for ensuring a strong foundation. Without such a foundation, Canada will continue to lose from the trade deals it signs.
Let us look specifically at the Canada-Panama free trade agreement.
As the NDP labour critic, I will begin by focusing on the labour co-operation agreement, which grandly declares that both countries have committed to ensuring that their laws respect the International Labour Organization's 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
The declaration aims to ensure that social progress goes hand-in-hand with economic development and covers the right to freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, the abolition of child labour, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. That sounds great, except the labour co-operation agreement contains no provisions that would force the signatories to implement the UNs labour standards.
Moreover, the agreement does not prevent Panama from weakening or reducing the protections afforded in domestic labour laws in any future effort it may make to encourage trade or investment. The Canada-Panama FTA contains only one enforceable labour provision: a requirement for the government to adhere to its own labour laws. Unfortunately, there is a significant canard involved in this language.
Panama's labour track record is not good. While unions and collective bargaining are permitted in export processing zones, the International Labour Organization's committee of experts questioned the government as to whether these workers actually have the right to strike.
In August 2007, two construction union members were assassinated while demonstrating for worker's rights. This summer there was a new wave of anti-union repression in Panama, resulting in several workers killed, over 100 injured and over 300 arrested.
Panama's law regulating the EPZs does not include arbitration or specify procedures to resolve labour disputes. Moreover, the U.S. state department noted that child labour continues to be a problem, with violations occurring most frequently in rural areas at harvest time and in the informal sector where many children work as street vendors, shoe shiners, cleaning windows, washing cars, bagging groceries in supermarkets and picking up trash. Clearly, even if Panama plays lip service to upholding ILO and UN labour conventions, it does not walk the talk. This FTA's so-called “dispute settlement system” does little to change that reality. It serves as little more than window dressing.
The maximum government fine for labour violations is capped at $15 million and, to add insult to injury, these funds, in the unlikely circumstance that they will ever be collected, are paid to a joint commission to improve labour rights enforcement, which, in turn, could easily be funnelled back into the Panamanian government's coffers.
Given that the Panamanian labour code does not even apply in export processing zones and that approximately two-thirds of Panamanian workers operate in the informal economy, the remedial power of any labour provisions that might be included in the agreement would be severely limited. In fact, this FTA would ultimately exonerate the signatories from meeting an acceptable human rights standard. To put it in a nut shell, this free trade agreement is bad news for labour.
However, it gets even worse.The agreement is bad news not just for labour, but for every Canadian because Panama is an offshore tax haven for companies that want to evade their Canadian tax obligations. A free trade agreement between Canada and Panama would be a bonanza for big business while leaving individual Canadian taxpayers with an ever-increasing burden for picking up the costs of federal government programs.
Let us take a closer look.
For decades, Panama has adjusted its laws in order to ensure that its business climate is one of the most unregulated in the world. Such lax regulation offers tremendous opportunities for foreign companies interested in dodging fair taxes, exploiting malleable labour regulations and taking advantage of less than transparent reporting requirements.
Panama's level of foreign direct investment has skyrocketed since legislation was passed in 1992, which established export processing zones in a number of locations across the country. Companies from all over the world are welcome to establish factories in these zones from light manufacturing, assembly, high technology and specialized and general services. Companies operating there are exempt from all taxation on imports and exports, sales tax and taxes on capital and assets.
In addition, EPZs are free from all restrictive national labour and immigration standards. Instead, they operate under provisions that are more favourable to foreign companies than the current Panamanian code.
In April 2009, the U.S.-based Public Citizen released a report highlighting Panama's banking secrecy rules and lax financial regulations. Ever since then, there has been much discussion in the media about Panama's status as a top tax haven. All foreign corporations conducting business in Panama are exempt from national taxes, making the country a 100% tax haven, according to the report. It comes as no surprise that over 350,000 foreign registered companies nominally operate from Panama.
In addition to tax exemptions, Panamanian law also makes it easy for multinational corporations to cook the books. According to the Public Citizen report, Panama has one of the world's most restrictive information exchange regimes, which allows the country to withhold information, even within the framework of a criminal investigation. Moreover, extremely strict slander laws can be used to arrest journalists for reporting facts and figures if they do not reflect well on business interests.
This lack of transparency, coupled with a lenient regulatory system governing the country's banking and financial sectors, enables corporations to conceal their financial losses and to engage in off-balance-sheet activities.
Evidence also links Panama's Colon Free Zone, or CFZ, with trafficking of narcotics and other illicit substances, in addition to offshore activities carried on by foreign corporations. Panama's CFZ, which is the second largest free trade zone in the world, provides a centrally located transit area for drugs and related money laundering activities moving up through Mexico to its northern border, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The illicit matters have grown even more controversial since the G20, at its recent conference, decided to crack down on tax havens and to step up financial regulation as key steps toward global financial recovery. In response, the Canada Revenue Agency is working on a new set of rules for voluntary disclosure here in Canada of offshore earnings.
I have criticized these rules elsewhere before. Not only will these rules allow individuals and corporations to admit that they have earned income in offshore bank accounts without facing prosecution for tax evasion, but under the new rules, auditors will only go back 10 years, and account holders will no longer have to explain where the original capital on accounts more than 10 years old came from. That, of course, means that money laundering is now legal in Canada as long as one is patient.
A free trade agreement with Panama would actually make it even more difficult to crack down on tax evasion and money laundering in Panama. The proposed FTA contains provisions that forbid cross-border regulations on financial transactions between Canada and Panama. It would also provide subsidiaries operating in Panama enhanced investor rights that would enable them to challenge any attempt by the Canadian government to monitor or limit financial transactions. In short, if one has tax evasion or money laundering needs, try Panama.
It is time to rethink our approach to global competitiveness. The measure should not be the profitability of Canadian multinational corporations abroad but rather the ability of Canadian-based producers to compete and thrive on Canadian soil in a dynamic global economy. What Canada needs and Canadians deserve is an overall national economic strategy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad. The patchwork of trade agreements the Conservatives have brought to this House to date delivers neither.
It is time to stop the ad hoc ribbon cutting across the globe and start afresh in the recognition that our trade policy requires deep reform. In fact, Canadians understand that need better than the Conservative government, and they are getting active on the issue. There is a growing fair trade movement in Canada that is being embraced by individual citizens, schools, academics, unions, activists, religious organizations, and more, all unified by their desire to make the world a better place.
Fair trade is really about making changes to conventional trade, which, as I pointed out, often fails to deliver on promises of sustainable livelihoods and opportunities for people in the poorest countries in the world. Poverty and hardship limit people's choices, while market forces tend to further marginalize and exclude them. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, whether as farmers and artisans or as hired workers within larger businesses. That two billion of our fellow citizens survive on less than two dollars per day, despite working extremely hard, makes it painfully clear that there is indeed a problem.
Fair trade seeks to change the terms of trade for the products we buy to ensure that the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean ensuring better prices for producers, but it often includes longer-term and more meaningful trading relationships.
Clearly, Canadians are taking this concept to heart. I want to applaud everyone involved in having their communities certified as Fair Trade Towns. The first city to be awarded Fair Trade Town status in Canada was Wolfville, Nova Scotia, on April 17, 2007.
Since then, additional cities, such as La Pêche, Quebec; Port Colborne, Ontario; Nakusp, B.C.; Golden, B.C.; Gimli, Manitoba; Olds, Alberta; Revelstoke, B.C.; Neuville, Quebec; Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Quebec; Vancouver, B.C.; Barrie, Ontario; Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec; and Canmore, Alberta have all joined, allowing fair trade towns to stretch from coast to coast.
I am proud that my own home town of Hamilton is a fair trade town in progress. We are well on the way to meeting all six goals for achieving fair trade town certification. All of the credit goes to Environment Hamilton and its supporters, who have been tireless in promoting sustainability in our community.
Members of the House may be interested to know that the six criteria for certification are as follows. First is the support of city council. Council has to pass a resolution in support of fair trade and the local campaign including (a) a commitment to purchase only fair trade certified tea, coffee, and sugar and other fair trade certified products, where possible, for all meetings and in offices and cafeterias and (b) a commitment to assign fair trade town responsibilities to a member of staff or committee to ensure continued commitment to its fair trade status.
Achieving this goal has been interrupted by the current municipal campaign in Hamilton, but I am cautiously optimistic that getting the city to commit will not be the most daunting challenge. Of course, the outcome of the election may change that landscape.
Second, communities have to demonstrate that fair trade certified products are available in stores and restaurants. Hamilton is already there.
Third, there must be support from community groups. Again, the support and commitment is already there in Hamilton, and we are now getting people organized around the goal of formal certification of the city.
Four, there needs to be demonstrated public support from both the media and the general public. Those pieces will certainly fall into place in Hamilton as we take the final steps toward certification of the city.
The fifth criterion is that a steering committee be convened that includes wide representation from the community and that commits to achieving two additional targets per year: submitting an annual progress assessment to TransFair Canada, and organizing events for National Fair Trade Week in May of each year. Environment Hamilton has already recruited representatives from local co-ops, faith groups, and retail outlets to join EH on the steering committee, so that is another criterion that has been met.
Lastly, there has to be a commitment to promote ethical and sustainable consumption. This will dovetail nicely with work already being done around the “eat local” campaign and the labour movement's “sweatshop-free” campaign. Again, we are almost there.
I am confident that Hamilton will get its certification as a fair trade town in very short order. When we succeed, we will be the largest municipality in Ontario to have achieved that designation.
Let us put that into the context of the oft-cited phrase of environmentalists, “Think globally, act locally”. Clearly, Hamilton is already acting locally, but the phrase urges people to consider the health of the entire planet when acting in their own communities and cities.
Long before federal agencies began enforcing environmental laws, individuals were coming together to protect habitats and the species that live within them. Now, with respect to trade, grassroots activists are once again way ahead of the federal government. It is time to catch up. It is not overly complicated, and if we make the effort, it will be very easy to engage in fair trade.
There are only three pillars to fair trade: respect for the environment in all dealings, respect for the economy—agreements must be economically viable—and respect for the human rights of the societies involved in trade agreements.
If the Conservative government included these simple but profound guidelines and principles in its international trade policies, Canada's image on the global stage would be transformed, and all Canadians would know that their federal government is finally embracing a trade policy that delivers on the promise of good jobs at home and shared prosperity abroad.
Instead, what I see in the Canada-Panama free trade agreement is a continuation of the patchwork approach of signing bilateral agreements that neither meet the goals of fair trade nor lead toward a comprehensive national economic strategy. In the absence of meeting those criteria, this is not a trade agreement that I can support.
Therefore, I move the following motion:
That all the words following “That” be deleted and replaced with the following: Bill C-46, An act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Panama, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Panama, and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Panama, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time six months hence.
Madam Speaker, I am happy the hon. member is actually listening and paying attention. After what I have been hearing in terms of the inaccuracies and absolute untruths he has been indicating with respect to some of the accusations against Colombia, I do believe it is important for us to listen to what we have to say to one another.
Of course, everything I do say today applies now. It is even more important to ensure we have something like this in place between Canada and Panama currently and, going forward for more than six months, would make absolutely no sense in terms of labour co-operation agreements, specifically for the reasons I will be enumerating here.
As I said, the labour co-operation agreement with Panama goes even further than the International Labour Organization's 1998 declaration. That is why it is important to deal with it now and not deal with something in six months. We should take the opportunity to deal with these things as they appear before us and as they are meant to be.
This agreement commits both countries to protect workers by providing acceptable protections for occupational health and safety. I am sure the House would agree that it is something that should happen immediately and not six months from now. Allowing for compensation in cases of injuries and illnesses is important for workers and that should happen now, not six months from now.
Providing for acceptable minimum employment standards, such as minimum wage and hours of work, on which I assume the opposition would agree, is something that should happen sooner rather than later, not through a delay of six months.
Further, the labour co-operation agreement would ensure that migrant workers would be given the same legal protections as nationals in respect of working conditions.
In order to ensure that Canada and Panama comply with their labour obligations, this agreement does include a strong dispute resolution mechanism that is transparent, robust and easy to use. The model is in line with Canada's other parallel labour co-operation agreements with Colombia, Peru and, of course, with Jordan.
As part of this settlement process, members of the public can submit complaints to either government concerning any of the obligations contained in the labour co-operation agreement. These complaints can bring to light any concerns from the public that domestic labour laws or their implementation by Canada or Panama do not comply with the terms of the labour co-operation agreement. If the complaint is deemed valid, then either country can request ministerial level consultations with the other country to resolve the issue.
If the countries are unable to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement and the matter concerns a perceived failure to respect obligations related to the 1998 International Labour Organization's declaration or even the enforcement of domestic laws, the country that requested the ministerial consultations can request that a review panel be convened. If the matter cannot be resolved, the independent review panel may require that the offending country may face financial penalties. These penalties would be placed into a co-operation fund in order to resolve the matter identified, as well as to help ensure compliance with and respect for domestic and international labour obligations.
Moneys placed in the co-operation fund would be disbursed according to an agreed upon action plan, which would ensure that the matters under dispute are effectively resolved
As we can see, under the labour co-operation agreement, both Canada and Panama will have an important tool to protect and improve the rights of workers, which, of course, would make more sense for them to have this now rather than six months from now at the very earliest.
That being said, it must be noted that this agreement also respects provincial jurisdiction on labour matters. At the same time, however, the federal government would have the ability to immediately use the dispute resolution process, if necessary, regardless of the level of provincial participation in the labour co-operation agreement.
In looking beyond the provinces, it is important to remember that this government is re-engaging with our partners across the Americas. An important part of this re-engagement is the promotion of the principles of sound governance, security and prosperity. A vital component of this strategy is the protection of labour rights, and this includes Panama. That is why Canada negotiated a robust and comprehensive labour co-operation agreement with Panama.
Our efforts to protect labour rights do not stop there. During the free trade negotiations with Panama, Canada requested that a principles based chapter on labour be inserted into the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Panama agreed to this request and, as such, there is now a much stronger and much more direct reference to labour rights in the free trade agreement.
That is important because the chapter on labour reaffirms both countries obligations under the labour co-operation agreement. By inserting a labour chapter into the free trade agreement text, Canada has provided an additional confirmation of that vital link between economic growth, prosperity and the respect for labour rights.
In closing, I would like to emphasize this government's view that free trade can play a positive role in a country's economic and social life, but this positive role does not have to come at the expense of labour rights. In fact, as the labour co-operation agreement demonstrates, it is possible to liberalize trade while protecting the rights of workers.
The push to protect labour rights is also an important component of Canada's active engagement in the Americas. Under this labour co-operation agreement, Canada would be able to help support Panama in its efforts to respect both its domestic labour laws and its international labour obligations. These efforts in turn will benefit Panamanian workers.
For those reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of the agreement in total and the parallel agreement on labour co-operation and implore that this happen sooner rather than later.