Canada-Panama Economic Growth and Prosperity Act (Bill C-24)

Elizabeth May: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama economic growth and prosperity act.


Others in this House might not have been thinking throughout this debate of the famous palindrome: a man, a plan, a canal — Panama. As members know, a palindrome is something that reads the same forward and backward. Unfortunately, I cannot read this trade deal as anything but backward. When the man is the Prime Minister and the plan is this free trade agreement, we do not get anything very progressive. We do not get a canal; we get a ditch.

We have a very small level of trade with Panama. While we see the Conservatives trying their best to gather up as many small trade agreements as possible, such as the one we passed with Jordan and this one with Panama, it is worth bearing in mind the level of trade that is currently at stake.

In 2010, there was just under $214 million in trade in goods between Canada and Panama. We do not expect this to go up very much even with a free trade agreement. If we look at previous free trade agreements with countries like Costa Rica and other small bilateral free trade agreements, we find that in a number of cases our trade has declined after signing the agreements.

We have a global trading framework already which includes the general agreement on tariffs and trade, and under the Uruguay round the creation of the World Trade Organization. We are not labouring any longer as a global society of nations under high tariffs and protectionist measures. They have been mostly slashed.

What would one want in trading and approving a trade agreement with Panama?

We have heard much in this House of the need to improve labour rights within Panama. We have heard that Panama continues to be a nation that traffics heavily in narcotics and drugs, and the rest of the world would like to stem their flow. We also know that Panama is a country that has extensive money laundering problems. This agreement does nothing to address these issues.

When we look at the ways in which Panama has operated as a tax haven, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Panama is one of 26 jurisdictions in the world that have not yet fulfilled their promise as of 2002 to provide tax sharing information. That would provide a greater understanding of when a country is operating unfairly and illegally to harbour revenue and wealth so that the country of origin cannot tax it properly.

The trade agreement with Panama unfortunately does not deal with any of these issues. It does not deal with narcotics trading. It does not deal with the tax haven problem. It does not deal with money laundering. It does have a side agreement to deal with labour, but we can already measure from previous efforts with such side agreements that they have no real effect on improving labour conditions in a country. 

Through the 1990s there was a great increase in trade agreements and a great wave of globalization. Its triumphalism was the creation of the World Trade Organization, but things have slightly stalled since Doha and there is a little less triumphalism. Some people feel that trade, trade liberalization and greater economic activity, particularly greater strength and power to corporations, will raise all boats. Gus Speth, the former head of the United Nations Development Programme, famously said, “This kind of trade raises all yachts”, but it does not do much for the poor. It certainly does nothing to improve labour conditions. If we negotiate a trade agreement while turning a blind eye to the things about our trading partner that worry us, things like drug trafficking, money laundering, human rights abuses, tax havens and places to shelter income that should be taxed under public revenue elsewhere, it is unlikely we would be able to fix them later.

Turning to the text of the agreement, in article 106 there are some carve outs so that the agreement would not unfairly target multilateral environmental agreements. I wish the trade negotiators for Canada had listed all the agreements that are important. They certainly have carved out the ones that were listed in NAFTA, such as, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Montreal protocol on the ozone layer, the Basel convention on the transport of hazardous materials, the Rotterdam convention on trade in hazardous goods, and the Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants. 

A startling omission, since both Panama and Canada are parties to the framework convention on climate change, is that the framework convention on climate change is not listed as an agreement that would be protected against any incidental accidental implications from this trade agreement to climate policies. As we speak, both Canada and Panama remain parties to the Kyoto protocol, although we know that Canada has signalled its intention, quite shamefully I may add, to withdraw from its legal commitments there. I would not expect to see the Kyoto protocol in this agreement, but I certainly expected to see the United Nations framework convention on climate change, to which both countries are currently committed.

More concerning are the sections that appear in chapter 9 of the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Chapter 9 deals with the quite devastating investor state provisions.

It sounds like the most boring of topics, an investor state provision. What could it be and why do we care? I want all Canadians to care. This provision is our innovation. We were the first anywhere on the planet to create this provision. It was done in NAFTA. In NAFTA, it is chapter 11. In the Canada-Panama agreement it is chapter 9, but it has the same effect.

There was an effort to make this kind of provision global. Some may remember the efforts were negotiated within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It started within the World Trade Organization, but it stalled there. At the WTO they were called multilateral investor agreements. They regrouped and went to the OECD and called them the multilateral agreement on investment, the MAI instead of the MIA. It stalled and failed there. Thank goodness. It was the result of widespread grassroots opposition.

It is the first truly global campaign I have ever seen where grassroots groups using the Internet reached out to each other. I remember one parliamentarian saying to me at the time, “I can’t imagine that any Canadian citizen is really worried about something called the multilateral agreement on investment”. He came back to me a few days later, after he had been on an MPs’ study tour and said that while he was paying for gas at a station in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, he saw on a clipboard a petition to stop the MAI. It contained several pages of signatures.

Why do Canadians at the grassroots and people globally not want more investor state provisions? I should say that once it failed at the OECD, largely thanks to France, but other countries ran to catch up, once it failed there, they abandoned it. By they I am referring to the corporate entities that are pursuing the notion that corporations should have powers superior to those of elected legislatures. The essence of an investor state provision is that multilateral corporations should be able to trump decisions made by democratically elected parliaments and legislatures around the world and they should be able to sue a country if that country passes legislation that a corporation does not like. That is the essence of it. It is not in any traditional way an expropriation.

They have taken it from global to doing it BIT by BIT, literally the acronym BIT, bilateral investment treaty, such as this one. They are collecting up by BITs to replace what they could not do directly, a global agreement that allows corporations to sue governments when governments take action, even when that action is not in any way designed to inhibit trade. It is as such when Canada banned a toxic gasoline additive, or when Canada took steps to ban the export of PCB contaminated waste pursuant to the Basel convention I mentioned earlier, or in the very sad and tragic case of Metalclad, a U.S. corporation. Metalclad wanted to put a toxic waste site next to a little community in Mexico called San Luis Potosi. The people of San Luis Potosi said no, that it was too close to their water source and they would not let that giant U.S. corporation, Metalclad, put its toxic waste disposal facility there. Under chapter 11 of NAFTA, Metalclad sued the federal state of Mexico. 

This agreement means that any corporation with a mailbox in Panama can claim to be an investor and sue Canada at the municipal, provincial or federal levels for any decision it does not like, that it feels impedes its expectation of profits.

In the case of poor little San Luis Potosi, Mexico ended up owing Metalclad just under $17 million.

I fear that my time to speak to this agreement may be coming to a close. I want to conclude by saying firmly and clearly that we must learn from what has gone wrong with chapter 11 of NAFTA and stop including investor-state provisions as an automatic, unthinking addition to every single trade agreement we negotiate.