Bill C-21 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Customs Tariff
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
Ralph Goodale Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
Committees of the House
The Royal Assent
April 29th, 2004 / 10:40 a.m.
The Deputy Speaker
I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
April 29, 2004
I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 29th day of April, 2004 at 9:50 a.m.
Secretary to the Governor General
March 23rd, 2004 / 3:25 p.m.
Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB
Mr. Speaker, we are here today to debate Bill C-21. For the riding of Selkirk—Interlake, any bill dealing with trade and tariffs is of primary importance. I have some points to make here today that will add to the debate.
Just so it is clear, as some people may be watching at home, Bill C-21 amends two sections of the customs tariff, specifically the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff. Under this bill, they are extended for another 10 years until June 30, 2014. The current legislation expires on June 30, 2004, so this matter is becoming fairly urgent. That is why it is being brought to the House now. This is the kind of legislation that the government should be making an earlier commitment on, a commitment to have it fully explored as opposed to trying to have it done in a rush without due diligence or thought.
These sections of Bill C-21, along with the act itself, are very important due to the fact that the majority of nations in the world that we trade with fall under this act in relation to the international agreements we have with them. Canada needs this stability in its import markets as well as in the export markets. On trade, it is my opinion that Canada absolutely needs to have the most extensive trading network possible on the international scene.
Every country in the world has something that Canadians would like to buy and probably every country in the world would like to buy something from Canada. Of course every country looks at this and says that for a country to get richer, it would like to sell but not buy anything. In this way a country could get richer and it would let other countries fend for themselves. But that is not the way it works. We have trade agreements that help facilitate this.
I believe that the ultimate objective in the world would be to have a trading system or relationship that is without tariffs and without barriers to trade so that all nations, and poor nations in particular, could bring themselves to a higher standard of living and become richer. I think that is what trade does.
Over history, the most successful nations in the world have been those nations that have used trade and the enrichment that trade brings not only to ensure that they have the financial resources to have a good way of life, but to ensure that they also have the cultural effects. People move from country to country and end up spreading their culture and good ideas around.
We also know that facilitating trade and having a lot of trade relationships with other countries have an overall security effect. If countries are closely intertwined in a cultural and economic relationship, they will be less inclined to battle each other and fight to the detriment of both. That is why we on the Conservative side are so much in favour of expanding trade. We are not saying we should expand trade at any cost, and of course the world has not yet reached the point where we can say that it is total and 100% free trade among all nations and everything will be fine, but it is one of those lofty goals that we in Canada have to reach for.
This customs tariff is organized into several major components. One is the most favoured nations tariff. We also have the general preferential tariff and a least developed country tariff. Finally, nations are subject to the general tariff rates.
These rules are under domestic legislation, which is what we are doing here today, and also under international trade agreements. The WTO, the World Trade Organization, is one of those organizations to which this applies. Of course our relationships with other countries on a bilateral or trilateral basis are also trade agreements. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is one of those other agreements.
To digress a little, when I am travelling across the country as the agriculture critic with the Conservative Party, I hear farmers say that “those doggone Europeans”, or the Americans or whoever, have slapped a duty on us. For instance, a duty has been slapped onto wheat, affecting the whole country but western Canada in particular. These are examples.
People blame the WTO and NAFTA for the duties that were slapped on. That is a typical trick of the NDP. They just love to say that these world trade agreements and globalization are bad, bad, bad.
The facts of the matter are these. I will use the example of the United States cattle a few years ago. We remember R-CALF, that producer group in the U.S. It was concerned that with our cattle going down there it was causing undue harm to the financial well-being of the United States. The United States producers used domestic U.S. law to put up those tariffs. What do we do when we are a little country of some 30 million people compared to a country of some 300 million people? It is a big difference. It is the old story of the elephant and the mouse. Those tariffs got slapped on and it cost us an awful lot of money. We had to pay to get our beef across the border and the Americans kept the money.
My point is that because of the WTO agreements and the NAFTA agreement we were able to use the dispute settlement mechanisms and we got the U.S. to back off on its domestic trade laws. It had misused those laws and was in contravention of the WTO. That is why we in the Conservative Party are such strong supporters of NAFTA, of World Trade Organization talks and of other international agreements that facilitate trade and, most important, stop the big guy from bullying the little guy.
I have talked about NAFTA and the WTO and the dispute settlement mechanisms. I would like to talk for a minute about agriculture in particular. The importance of tariffs is paramount as the negotiations go on in changing to this new order that everybody is talking about, where tariffs will come down.
I will remind the House that the general belief and policy position of the Conservative Party is that tariffs should be negotiated down. But in the case of supply management, our system in Canada certainly has control of supply. Extra supply is not put out. This is done through a legislative process. There is a built in cost of production formula so that there is some reasonable return on those products.
Part of the three pillars of supply management is that import tariffs have to be sufficient to prevent other countries from putting a lot of product into Canada over and above what we have agreed to at the WTO. Those high tariffs do that for supply management.
Many people like to say that the member for Selkirk—Interlake is against supply management or that he is against this or that. A lot of misinformation is being put out. Unfortunately, I happen to have a lot of these four-legged creatures, called cows, at home, and the beef industry in Canada is protected by tariffs also. We have a limit of around 79,000 tonnes that comes in from oceanic countries like Australia, New Zealand and Brazil. That limit is there for the purpose of not having our beef industry flooded with excessive amounts of cheap foreign beef.
We will be working to lower those tariffs so we can have more free trade in the beef industry. That can be done at the negotiations of the WTO. However, we will not arbitrarily lower these tariffs. It is the same with the supply management side. The Conservative Party very clearly will not arbitrarily lower those import tariffs.
We will have to negotiate those tariffs at the WTO. The former agriculture minister said that the government supported supply management 110,000% and that it would never change. There was that kind of talk. Even the current minister says things along the same idea, but he modifies it a bit.
On supply management, trade and tariffs, in 1995 the Liberal government, with the current Prime Minister as part of that government, signed away article XI, the article in the trade agreements between countries that protected supply management from any change. The government put it on the negotiating table of the WTO. It said that it would agree to 5% imports in 1995. Later the Liberal government negotiated to have the supply management tariffs, which were on the negotiating table, lowered so we in Canada would end up accepting more imports of supply management commodities.
I think the Liberal government is proceeding along with that process because it is on the table at the WTO right now, which is where it should be. We all have to look at every sector of our economy and participate ultimately in world negotiations. That is supply management.
There is some name calling by the Liberals, and I have expressed their misstating of our position on trade and on supply management in particular. However, I would like them to remember that our position is consistent, whether it be beef or supply management.
I will talk briefly about tariffs and the two particular parts of our agriculture industry. This is where I get to the former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and many of the Liberal members, who are still sitting here. Under the least developed country tariff agreement, the prime minister said that we would accept agriculture commodities from the least developed countries to help them enrich themselves. They could sell more to Canada to make their economies work better. That would allow the poor farmer to sell more to help enrich a country. However, he said that we would not let any supply management commodities come into the country. Rather we would allow only those non-supply management commodities. That made a lot of farmers say, “Just a minute”. They said that if we were to have international agreements that affected agriculture, at least it should be done in a uniform basis so all commodities would be affected similarly.
That was one of the big faults with the Liberals. They tried to pick out one or two commodity groups and treat them different from all agriculture commodities across the country. That is just plain not fair, and it causes division between agriculture groups.
I know the Grain Growers of Canada, with their excellent executive director Cam Dahl, has one kind of possession on the trade that we should be moving toward greater trade. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is generally saying that tariffs should not be reduced too much, that we should keep the status unless we can get the deal we want, and if we do not get what we want, we should not negotiate. Once again, this is causing dissension between commodity groups in the country.
Canada is saying that it is part of the Cairns Group, which is the group of countries, primarily led by Australia. It is recognized as the leaders of those middle sized countries in the trading world that want to see everyone enrich themselves and prosper. It points out that this cannot be done when rich countries and rich groups of countries, namely, the United States and the European Union, have so much money that they can outbid and out-finance every other country in the world and in effect subsidize their farmers to the point where they can compete with anybody because they can produce the food for nothing and still make a living. That is wrong.
The Cairns Group wants to change that, and that is tremendously important in looking at all these tariffs and trade agreements. It is tremendously important that tariffs come down and that trade is facilitated between countries. The Cairns Group is certainly a leader in that.
I wanted to bring up the Cairns Group in this context because Canada is part of that group, but it is not really a leader in it. We are the biggest country in the group, from an economic point of view, and we should be a leader and go for the ultimate goal of freer trade, lower tariffs and greater market access. That is tremendously important.
About four years ago I was in Washington, D.C. We talked to the people who dealt with least developed countries that were trying to enrich themselves. The speaker pointed out very clearly the importance of having countries willing to accept imports from these poorer countries.
The conclusion of my speech is that we have to, as rich Canadians, allow greater imports into Canada by these poorer countries. We will end up becoming richer also, and not with just a good feeling in our hearts. When those countries become richer, they will buy more beef from us, and that will help our cattle ranchers.
March 23rd, 2004 / 3:20 p.m.
John M. Cummins Delta—South Richmond, BC
Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciated the comments of my colleague from Nanaimo. I think that the issues raised by this bill and the hurry up fashion with which it is being rushed through the House are symptomatic of the way the government has been treating some important legislation over its mandate. I find that particularly reprehensible.
I think that one of the key issues reflected in the bill has to do with the failure of the government to look far enough ahead when these sorts of agreements are due to expire.
My friend has an interest in the softwood lumber issue in British Columbia, where we had the same sort of happenstance. We were aware that the agreement was going to expire well in advance of the due date, and yet only in the moments leading up to that did the government decide it had better get on the bandwagon and try to solve the problem. I wonder if my friend sees any parallels between the way Bill C-21 has been brought forward and the fallout from the other.
March 23rd, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, one of the dangers of speaking just prior to question period is that with the passing of an hour one sometimes forgets one's train of thought. If the rest of my colleagues and perhaps those who are viewing at home will humour me, I may repeat myself a bit. I am sure everyone will agree that it does bear repeating.
Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Tariff, has provoked an interesting debate in the House on a number of issues that surround the issue of trade itself. Being a member of Parliament from the west coast of Canada, in fact one of the most westerly ridings in Canada, there is no question that the economy of my riding depends very much on the imposition of a good rules-based trading system.
Most of the people in my riding, even though they have concerns about globalization and its effect upon particularly underdeveloped countries around the world, realize that they gain their bread and butter from having an effective rules-based trading regime in place.
We do not always like what we see happening under NAFTA or under the WTO. However, we are glad that there are rules and procedures that we can follow in terms of dispute resolution to take care of some of the problems that we see in trade today.
I stated before question period that I had travelled in the Orient a number of times. I am pleased to see that there is a rise in the standard of living in countries such as China, where indeed more jobs have been created by the entrance of foreign capital and corporations which are beginning to increase their production in these countries.
However, even though we realize the importance of Bill C-21--and indeed there is an absolute necessity that this legislation be passed in the House because the old legislation indicated that it would expire on June 30 of this year--we have some concerns about the way in which the Liberal government introduces legislation itself.
Why bring it in now? There is the possibility of an election being called in a week, two weeks or a month, who knows? Is it the government's desire to then rush through these kinds of bills in a short period of time, perhaps not giving the bills adequate debate, not giving members of Parliament the opportunity to really take a look at all of the issues surrounding the bill, and to simply move it forward by haste to reach this deadline?
I want to suggest that over my seven years in the House this is simply a brand of the way the Liberals do business. It is a Liberal tactic. It is the indication of a government that has been far more reactive to situations than proactive. That is one of the sad things that I have experienced in the House from the government. Instead of giving Canadians a vision of hope for the future, a five year plan or a 10 year plan in any area of government that would tell us where it is taking the country down the road, it reacts to crisis rather than be proactive to produce a plan that will work for Canadians.
We saw this taking place in a number of areas. I have seen it personally in the way it handled the Iraq war. My personal preference was that we not enter the Iraq war with the United States; however, what happened in that situation was that the government put off enunciating Canada's position until the very last moment. It opened up all kinds of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of where Canadians really stood on this issue.
We saw it happen of course with the softwood lumber agreement which greatly affects my riding. I indicated this before question period, how the softwood lumber concern, a trade issue, has affected so many jobs in my riding.
Simply put, here was an agreement that the government knew expired in the year 2001, and instead of being proactive and ensuring that we could move into something that could take its place at the expiration of the negotiated treaty, we simply moved into this protracted period of almost three years now where we have no agreement with the Americans over softwood lumber. It has deeply hurt the industry across Canada, particularly in British Columbia.
This again is an indication of a government that does not prepare. It simply reacts to crisis and once again we see that in the way it treats legislation. It puts it off and then when it is somewhat politically opportune, it brings it in, deals with it by rushing it through Parliament. We do not have the kind of time and attention paid to legislation that we should in this place.
We see the same sort of thing in reference to the same sex marriage question where it wants to put it off to the courts rather than to allow members of the Parliament of Canada, who speak for the people of the nation, to represent their concerns in the House on such a huge issue. The government puts it off. It tries to put it out of its particular purview and make someone else responsible for it.
That is irresponsible and it is in the same kind of vein in terms of the legislation before the House. It brings in legislation at the very last moment when it is politically opportune to get it out of the way. It is almost like a work filler for us to have something to do before the election comes along. I suggest that is not the way it should be.
Even though we have these concerns about the bill, and its timing, we do agree with the bill and we will be supporting it when it comes to a vote in the House.
March 23rd, 2004 / 1:45 p.m.
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise in the House on behalf of my constituents in Nanaimo--Cowichan and to speak to Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Tariff.
On the face of it, the bill seems to be a fairly innocuous type of legislation. It is fairly mundane and routine, but it is interesting that this particular bill has provoked what I think is a fair amount of good discussion in the House today. There are times when I sit in this place on my House duty day and say to myself, “Is there really much point?” But we have had a good debate today and I think the bill, even though it seems to be fairly mundane, has been able to spark some interest in a number of ways as we have discussed it.
For the benefit of those who perhaps may be watching the debate on television, which might be an act of masochism, I am not sure, Bill C-21 amends two sections of the customs tariff. Specifically, the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff are extended for another 10 years until June 30, 2014. Of course one of the reasons the bill has to be put through the House in this manner as speedily as possible is that the current legislation expires on June 30 of this year, so there is some urgency to do this, particularly if there is an election coming.
The customs tariff is organized into several major components: the most favoured nations tariff, generally called the MFNT; the general preferential tariff, the GPT; and the least developed country tariff, the LDCT. These are nations that we have direct trade agreements with or nations that are subject to the general tariff rate.
The first three categories apply to our trading partners in the World Trade Organization with which we do not have separate trade agreements. Countries such as the United States, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel and others belong to the fourth category, as tariff rates have been negotiated bilaterally, and trilaterally, of course, in the case of NAFTA, which encompasses the countries of Canada, the United States and Mexico. Four other nations, such as North Korea, do not belong to any category and are subject to the higher general tariff rate of 35%.
The vast majority of the countries in the world with which we have trading relations fall into the categories of the GPT or the LDCT. Examples of members in the GPT include China, Brazil, Kuwait and most other developed countries with which we trade. The LDCT list includes nations such as the Congo, Somalia, Haiti and other underdeveloped nations.
Both the GPT and the LDCT provide very low to non-existent tariff rates for nations in those categories. The reason behind putting these countries in these categories is that hopefully it will encourage the growth of those economies and trade relations with Canada. Most of these countries are developing nations that need to have some kind of free trade or rules based trading agreements with other countries to stimulate their economies. Of course, the problem exists that if these tariff rates were to expire these nations would be treated as MFN partners, most favoured nations partners, and then would be subject to that higher MFN tariff rate.
One of the interesting things that has happened in this debate today is that it has provoked an interesting debate on the whole question of globalization. Globalization is a huge topic in my riding. I hear about it very frequently from constituents, some of whom have very great concerns about globalization. I must say that there are times when I agree with their concerns.
However, the reality of globalization is that it is something that cannot be stopped. It is going to take place. In the kind of world in which we live today, where technology has created such a small world for us, where we can travel to other countries in such a timely and efficient manner, and where we can have interaction with developing nations at world forums and in other ways, this is something that just simply is not going to stop. What we need to see is that within the spread of globalization there is maintained for these less developed countries an opportunity to develop with justice and equality and fairness for all the people who exist in these nations.
Of course a lot of people are concerned about what could be classified as sweatshop operations in some of the developing nations, where charges have been levelled against large multinational companies that go in and seemingly take advantage of low wages and exploit the population. Sometimes it has been proven, of course, that they have done this with very small children. Those are concerns that we would have and I do not think anybody in the House, whether they favour open free trade or otherwise, would not be concerned about conditions like these.
However, I think we need to look at the positive aspects of globalization. Of course, this bill is really a housekeeping bill that puts some parameters around the effects of globalization. China is a very good example. I have had the opportunity to do a fair bit of travelling in southeast Asia in the last few years. I have visited Thailand, Taiwan, China and some other countries in that area such as Hong Kong. I think China is a good example of an emerging nation that has reaped the rewards of globalization in a very positive way.
What has happened in China, of course, is that it has opened its doors to increased foreign investment. That has been a particularly hard thing for it to do, coming out of its communist ideology, in being able to somehow conform to the rules and the practices of the World Trade Organization.
Those who go to Shanghai now will see simply acres and acres of brand new factories that have been developed over the last 10 years or so and are now providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of people who had no real jobs before. They are people who perhaps never in their lives made more than 10¢ a day in our money. Now they are making $1 a day. Maybe they are making $10 a day. In our terms as we look at that we say to ourselves that this is not much of a wage, but we have to remember that the buying power of $10 in China is a whole lot more than the buying power of $10 in this country.
Along with the increase in their wages, there is indeed an increase in the standard of living in that country. One cannot help but see this as one travels the country. They are certainly better off, or at least those folks now getting involved in the new industry are far better off than they were 20 years ago. Those people who walked to work or rode a bicycle before this can now afford a motorcycle. The people who could not afford to live in anything but a one room shack are now living in new four room houses. Again, that is not up to our standards. I am in the process of building a new house and in comparison to what I saw in China, it is a mansion. It is not a mansion for me, but it would be for them. However, they are certainly better off than they were and it is a result of globalization.
On the other side of globalization and free trade, and opening up economic borders, we have the problem of protectionism. We have seen protectionism rear its ugly head in the United States recently. The softwood lumber problem is a result of a protectionist policy. Even though we have had a rules-based agreement with the United States over softwood lumber, it has not worked because one of the trading partners has refused to open up its borders to free trade.
In my riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan that breakdown in free trade and that breakdown in the good effects of globalization has caused a huge problem. Hundreds of jobs have been lost because of the softwood lumber problem. If we did not have the arbitration policies that are in effect through NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, we would never see an end to this resolution.
Protectionism is not just an American problem. It is also a problem for our government. It knew for five years that the softwood lumber agreement would expire. It sat by on the sidelines and did nothing to allow us to move into another rules-based trade agreement with the United States on softwood lumber. When one expired, we simply moved into something else. That is one of the problems with globalization. That is one of the problems when governments do not take the opportunity to use the rules properly to create good economic conditions in this country.
We in the Conservative Party agree with Bill C-21. We see some of the problems it highlights in terms of the extension of tariffs. We will be supporting the bill when it comes to the House for a vote.
March 23rd, 2004 / 1:40 p.m.
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Mr. Speaker, I do want to thank my colleague for sharing his thoughts and concerns about Bill C-21. I wonder if my colleague would like to comment on this government's practice, it seems, of bringing in this kind of legislation at such a late date, with an impending election looming on the horizon. Would he give us the benefit of his thoughts in terms of why the government continues to do this sort of thing?
March 23rd, 2004 / 1 p.m.
Ted White North Vancouver, BC
Mr. Speaker, we have had a very interesting debate today. When we started this morning, nobody expected it would move along this way, but it has been certainly interesting.
The Conservative Party will support the bill because we support free trade. However, this has given all of us an opportunity to talk in a wider frame about free trade and the sorts of problems that do or do not occur.
Before continuing on Bill C-21, I would like to mention an exchange that took place a little earlier between myself and a member of the NDP. He talked about unfair competition and that if there was unfair competition, we would surely want to have protection in place for the companies that were subjected to this unfair competition.
That hits pretty close to home. Prior to being a member of Parliament, I was in business for myself. I had a company with 10 employees, and at one stage in the 1980's, we were in the facsimile business, selling fax machines. That was about the time when Office Depot and Staples started expanding into British Columbia. They were opening stores in the Vancouver area where I was selling fax machines. Suddenly people could buy fax machines from Staples and Office Depot for a couple of hundred dollars less than the fax machines I sold.
I guess my colleague from the NDP would probably argue that was unfair competition. This big box store was coming in taking away the livelihood of my employees and all the stuff that went along with it. However, I did not look at it that way.
When we say it is unfair, unfair for whom? It was wonderful for consumers. Now they could buy a product at $200 less than they could from me and more people could afford it. As a result, Office Depot and Staples could employ many more people than I could. They could sell the types of products that they could bring into the marketplace, which the small retailers could not.
Instead of crying, weeping, going to government and demanding and asking for help to protect my business, I sat down and took a look at what Staples and Office Depot could not do that I could as a small business entrepreneur. I discovered that my technicians were trained to service the fax machines, and they could service the machines that were sold by Staples and Office Depot. What is more, the market became bigger because Office Depot and Staples were selling a lot more fax machines than I ever could, so we had more servicing opportunities than we ever had before.
I also looked around at products. We chose a line of specialty telephone equipment that Staples and Office Depot could not sell because it was too complicated and required too much pre-selling for a customer to understand how it would be beneficial.
There are always ways for an innovative business person to move aside from problems that are created by a free marketplace and to find something else that works. It is called niche marketing and it works really well. That is why Northern Telecom is so successful. It is in a niche market. It started at a time when virtually no one serviced that part of the telecommunication equipment market. It has become the world leader in the supply of telecommunication equipment.
When we talk about bills like this one and the whole environment of free trade, we have to remember that free trade has really and truly helped countries like Canada. All of the other countries of the world that have opened their borders now have higher living standards, better wages and just generally a better environment because of free trade.
I left this example until after I had given my own personal example. One of the Bloc members earlier talked about a manufacturer of paper bags in his riding who was distressed because those bags could now be made more cheaply in China. I assume this manufacturer has complained to his member of Parliament about this terrible state of affairs and has asked what the government can do to protect his paper bag manufacturing plant.
I am making some assumptions, but I think they are a reasonable assumption. The correct approach is to be honest with that manufacturer and tell him that the government policy is free trade and that he will have to work out a way to make his business work in this environment, not with government subsidies, not with protection from tariffs. Rather he should look at what he is manufacturing.
If somebody else is knocking him out of the marketplace, he should find something else to make. Perhaps he can make a specialty plastic bag, one of those wine carriers we see being sold a lot now. They are very much in vogue. There is string attached, and it is a nice type of plastic bag or paper bag in which to carry our wine when we go out to visit someone for dinner. There could be gift bags. There could be a whole range of different options for that manufacturer to get back into the marketplace in an niche market that cannot be touched by China because it is too small for that mass market and yet very profitable. There are other examples like this, too.
I am originally from New Zealand. As hon. members would know, in the mid-nineties New Zealand went bankrupt. What happened? It had to remove almost all the subsidies and grants that were given to farmers in New Zealand. My goodness, there was a lot of wailing, weeping and moaning about what would happen, and certainly a number of farmers went bankrupt. However, within 10 years there were three times as many farmers in New Zealand as there were prior to the removal of subsidies because farming had suddenly become profitable. Farmers were able to use their initiative to find niche markets.
At one stage some farmers in New Zealand were providing most of the mozzarella for Pizza Hut in the United States. They discovered they could make a quality mozzarella at the right price to fill that niche market. Farmers had been making orange cheddar previously, which everybody made, and governments filled warehouses full of cheddar that nobody needed. It was wonderful. The New Zealand farmers were forced into the position of getting off that government reliance and on to the idea of niche markets.
I do not know if hon. members have ever been there, but they should take a trip to New Zealand, go to a supermarket and take a look at the dairy department. They will be astounded at the variety and choice in that supermarket. There are so many cottage industries in the dairy industry making specialty cheeses for the yuppie market, I suppose we could call it. In addition, there are flavoured whipping creams in New Zealand. We can get kahlua whipping cream and grand marnier whipping cream. We cannot even get that in Canada because it is still illegal to sell alcohol added to those products. It is not that simple, but the removal of subsidies and grants has spawned an industry and initiative that was never there before.
I will give a home grown example. In British Columbia in the early 1980s the wine industry was heavily subsidized. Anyone who grew grapes would be guaranteed to get a huge government subsidy to stay in business. Everybody knew the wine was absolutely awful. Everybody knew it was dreadful stuff. The government of Bill Bennett at the time removed the subsidies.
Other colleagues from British Columbia will remember the screaming, yelling, wailing and moaning. Everyone was going out of business. It would be just awful. What has happened? It encouraged the industry to take a long, hard look at itself, to get rid of the junk grapes that it was growing, to start growing quality grapes and to get good winemakers from around the world. Winemakers came from France, New Zealand, Italy and Germany to help the industry develop, and now look at it today. British Columbia produces world-class wine.
Governments do not do anybody any favours by providing grants and subsidies to business. It stifles initiative and it stifles a choice in the community for consumers. It keeps prices high. If they wanted, everybody in the House could have a BlackBerry and most people could have a computer at home because of free markets that allow those products to be manufactured at a low enough price for the average person to buy in a store in Canada.
I can remember when a computer could only be purchased from a specialty store and cost $12,000. When my business purchased its first computer in 1979, it cost more than $12,000. Very few people even sold a computer. It had 12 inch floppy discs that we put into it. Only 80K of information was held on one of these great big discs, and it cost $12,000.
I had a Future Shop flyer in front of me earlier today. We can buy a desktop computer now, with a monitor and with 2.8 gigabytes of storage, for $499. What produces that sort of situation is free and open markets.
That is why at the end of the day we will be supporting the bill, because we truly believe in open markets and the reduction of tariffs. In fact, the only thing I am unhappy about with the bill is that it does not remove the tariffs completely. It maintains in place preferential treatment for some countries and less preferential treatment for others. At least it has been a step along the way, because when I immigrated to Canada in 1979 it was very much like New Zealand had been earlier with lots of protective tariffs in place and very high prices for a lot of products. It certainly is a much better environment today.
Before I finish, I need to mention something that was mentioned earlier by some of my colleagues and that is the unholy rush in which the bill is being pushed through the House. The government must have seen this situation coming up at least a year or two ago. There was a sunset clause on these tariffs. Everyone knew they were to expire very soon. Why did the government leave it until so close to the expiry date? The expiry date was to be June 30 this year. No one can tell me that no one in government recognized a year ago that this was going to happen.
Why did the government leave the bill until two or three weeks before an election call to bring it to the House? Now we are rushing the bill through without proper consideration of alternatives in order to make sure that it can stay in place when we go to an election and the House will not be here to make sure that it is done prior to June. This is typical of what has been happening in the House over the last few weeks.
I have been working on Bill C-3 which deals with the definition of political parties. That bill was introduced in the House when we came back after prorogation. The minister persuaded us that he wanted it to go to committee before second reading so that we could study the bill and make wise amendments to it and so on.
The minister indicated that he was truly interested in hearing input, that we were in a new era, that we would be getting rid of the deficit of democracy around this place. What happened when we went to committee on Bill C-3, the very first question I asked the minister was whether he or his department had contacted anybody affected by the bill and his answer, incredibly, was no.
Here we were with a bill already before committee prior to second reading. It had only been introduced and it went straight to committee and the minister had not even told the people affected by the bill that it was in process. Why? He wanted it through quickly because if it is not in place by June, it is a similar sort of situation. We have the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the Elections Act will fall apart if we do not have an amendment in place by June, so the minister is panicking to get this bill in place and through the Senate.
In fact, the bill was supposed to come back today. The minister tried to get unanimous consent in the House to waive the customary three days' notice to bring it back and to put it on the Order Paper today. He could not get that consent, but there is this rush to get the bill back into the House because the government knows it is running out of time. It wants to get it through before the election call. Instead of having proper consideration of the bill, informing the people who will be affected by it, getting some news releases out and making the public aware of the bill, he is trying to get it through as quickly as possible with the fewest people possible noticing as well.
In committee I asked the minister if he had notified anyone. His response was no. I asked if we were getting any witnesses. His response was no. It ended up that the opposition, the Conservative Party, had to filibuster in order to get some witnesses, to even be able to tell the people affected by the bill that it was happening.
We filibustered in the committee and about a week later we managed to get the Chief Electoral Officer in as a witness. Also, at my request, the head of the Communist Party of Canada was able to come from Toronto. However, the government would not allow anyone else from the small parties, such as the Green Party, who would be affected by the bill.
The two witnesses gave their testimony. The Chief Electoral Officer raised some terrible problems with the bill and suggested some very wise amendments. Right after the witnesses appeared, the minister wanted us to go ahead and do the clause by clause study of the bill. We had to threaten filibustering again in order to even consider the evidence given by the witnesses.
Some very wise amendments were suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. We met again a few days later in committee with the minister having given an indication he was open to discussion about the amendments but in the end he would not approve any of them.
What a futile exercise it turned out to be in the same sort of circumstance as this bill. It is rushing through legislation without proper consideration, without hearing witnesses and without giving proper amendments so a faulty piece of legislation will be back in the House, I am sure, in the next few days. It is going to be rammed through the House so that we can go to an election and it is crammed with problems.
The Chief Electoral Officer said that Bill C-3 is forcing him into a position where he will have to make judgments about the purposes of political parties. In order to register them he would have to determine whether the Liberal Party of Canada, for example, actually has a purpose.
Mr. Speaker, how would you like to be in that position? That single person who is supposed to be non-partisan, completely independent of any of the political parties will be put in a position of having to determine and then sign off on paperwork that he is satisfied that the political party he is registering has a political purpose. That is the type of legislation we are getting because of this unholy rush to get things through before an election.
I realize that the bill before us is not quite as bad. It deals with a situation that has been well discussed in the past. It deals with free trade. It certainly has given us an opportunity, as I mentioned, to talk a fair bit about free trade today and to get some of our concerns on the table. We have heard a variety of opinions expressed today.
There are some who would like to see us move back to more protectionism. The members of the Bloc, whom I like to call the NDP of Quebec, would like to side with the NDP and see more protectionism. They think that would be helpful but it is not. All of the evidence that a person can gather shows that protectionism destroys jobs. Protectionism reduces consumer selection and choice. Protectionism increases prices for the consumer and it does not help people's living conditions or working standards.
The best way to achieve those goals is to have the type of environment that Bill C-21 produces, an environment of lower tariffs, freer trade and more opportunity.
March 23rd, 2004 / 11:10 a.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-21. In my opinion, part of what we are addressing today is our vision of development aid.
I would remind hon. members that the purpose of this bill is to extend two customs tariff programs for another ten years. The first of these is the general preferential tariff and the second, the least developed country tariff.
The GPT dates back a good number of years—more than 25 now—to 1974. It reduces Canadian customs on a broad range of products from more than 180 developing countries. This tariff agreement, as we know, is also part of the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization.
Then there is the LDCT, which is a more recent development, although also several decades old now, dating back to 1984. It provides complete duty-free access to all imports, except for certain agricultural goods, from the 48 least developed countries, according to the United Nations.
Consequently, the bill is intended to extend to June 2014 existing provisions of the Customs Tariff legislation designed, as I mentioned, to provide developing countries with preferential access to the Canadian market. In this respect, we cannot disagree with Bill C-21.
The Bloc Quebecois, like everyone in Quebec, has always defended the idea that developing countries have a right to develop, and that closing our borders to their products is certainly not a way to help them develop.
Therefore, we want to be consistent with our approach to helping these countries develop, in particular through official development assistance. If, on the one hand, we did that, while, on the other hand, when these countries made an effort to develop, we closed our borders to their products, we would be completely contradicting ourselves.
That said, I must point out that, while Bill C-21 is a good thing in principle, there are a number of reasons for caution. I will come back to them. I would also like to point out the fact that the great contradiction is not in bringing in Bill C-21, but in bringing it in with the levels of official assistance that Canada is currently providing to developing countries.
I remind the House that, since the Liberals have been here, official assistance has decreased by nearly a half. When the Liberals came to power, official development assistance was at nearly 0.5% of the GDP or GNP in Canada, while on the international scene, the agreed-upon standard—and I believe it was the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Pearson, who proposed this—is 0.7% of the GNP or GDP.
Thus, when the Liberals came to power, we were almost three-quarters of the way there. Now, we are one-third of the way there. In 1993-94, when the new finance minister, now the Prime Minister, arrived, there began a time of draconian cuts in Canada's official development assistance, which dropped from 0.49% to 0.44% of GDP in 1993-94 and hit rock bottom in 2000-01, with 0.25% of GDP. There is nothing to be proud of in this. At present, it stands at about 0.27% of GDP.
The great contradiction in introducing Bill C-21 is that on one hand we are opening our market, but on the other hand we are not giving them the means to organize their development, not only from an economic perspective, but from a social perspective as well. When Quebeckers support a bill like this, they do so to ensure that development does not benefit just a handful of people in these countries, but everyone, whether in Bangladesh, Cambodia or any of the 48 least developed countries.
I remind hon. members that these 48 developing and least developed countries represent 614 million people in Southeast Asia but mostly in Africa. I also remind hon. members that the average annual income of the inhabitants of these 48 countries is $500 or less. Imagine the poverty.
Some 40% of the inhabitants of these 48 countries live on only a dollar a day. This is another example of how far these countries are lagging behind. This has appalling consequences from all perspectives, not only on general living conditions, but also life expectancy. The average life expectancy in these countries is 25 years less than the average for developed countries.
We really need to open our borders to their products and properly invest in official development assistance. We must reaffirm the need for 0.7% of the gross domestic product, which is also called the gross national product. Gross national product was used as an indicator to describe the wealth of a country when the international community agreed on a target. Now we talk about the gross domestic product, but, overall, it amounts to the same thing. Not only must we reaffirm the objective of 0.7% of the gross domestic product, but we must have a very specific plan to achieve this goal in the next few years, not the next several decades.
We can only hope that the upcoming election campaign will enable the Liberals and the other parties—as the Bloc Quebecois will be doing—to make some very firm commitments, not only with respect to the objective but also with respect to the specific plan for achieving it. We know that this government is very strong on rhetoric but very weak on actual game plan. When I was at the CSN, we likened such people to drivers who always signalled a left turn and then turned right. This is the case for the Liberal party, the party of the current Prime Minister and former finance minister.
Over and above Bill C-21, which is fully in line with our vision of development, we also expect to see Canada invest properly in official development assistance. We therefore expect a firm commitment of 0.7% of GDP, and also a plan to achieve that within about 10 years, tops. Perhaps by 2014 such a law will no longer be needed. We may be able to open our borders to all countries, in the realization that everyone will be on the same footing as far as competition goes.
There are still some concerns, and I will get to them now. These least developed countries are often involved in industrial sectors in which Canadian and Quebec businesses are engaged here. There is therefore a totally legitimate concern on the part of both workers and entrepreneurs about the survival of these industries in Quebec and Canada.
Often, unfortunately, this government's approach is somewhat paternalistic or fatalistic when it comes to a number of industrial sectors with a heavy presence in Quebec. I am thinking of the garment and textile industries, for instance. I remember my days at the Université de Montréal as a student of economics in the early 1970s, when there was talk of soft sectors. The garment industry was one of those soft sectors with no future. The government's approach to this was merely to see how plants could be closed down as quietly and as quickly as possible.
At that time there were 40,000 garment workers in the greater Montreal region. That meant 40,000 jobs that were threatened, jobs the federal government merely crossed off. Its attitude: that's life, the natural economic trend, and these soft sectors will simply disappear from our economy and reappear in the developing countries. The federal government adopted a fatalistic attitude.
Fortunately for the industry itself, for the workers, for the unions involved and for the community, thanks in part to the considerable assistance provided by the City of Montreal at that time, the apparel industry is alive and well in Montreal and still accounts for 40,000 jobs. Obviously, we have not been able to increase employment in that industry, but we have managed to maintain it at the same level despite the fatalistic attitude of the federal government and its lack of substantial support.
We have managed to maintain these 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry over the last 25 to 30 years, despite the opening up of markets, and we want to preserve them. To do so, it is clear that we will have to manufacture products that are different from those currently available. This has been the case in the past.
If we have 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry in the Montreal area, which is the same level as in the early seventies, it is because our manufacturers, our workers, have developed such knowledge and skills that clothing made in Montreal is more of a top-of-the-line product than clothing made in Bangladesh or Cambodia. It is a quality product and there is a market for it not only in Quebec and in Canada, but also in a significant number of industrialized countries, particularly in the United States.
We will have to intensify our efforts in that area. This time, there must be real assistance on the part of the federal government so that the apparel industry in particular—but it is also true of the textile industry—can improve the quality of its products, diversify its products and manufacture more added-value products in order to be able to maintain its employment level and—we can always dream—perhaps even increase it.
As I said earlier, there is no need to be unduly alarmed. In fact, the 48 least developed countries I mentioned earlier represent barely 0.17% of all imports to Canada. This is not even equivalent to level of assistance we provide to these countries, which is 0.27%. We are therefore talking about 0.17% of Canadian imports, with 92% of these imports originating essentially in two countries, Bangladesh and Cambodia, particularly with regard to clothing.
Consequently, we want the government to make a very strong commitment to monitoring the rules of origin on clothing from these countries. We want to avoid the type of situation we have experienced at times under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Basically, fabric is used to manufacture, in China for example, unfinished items of clothing which are then sent to Bangladesh, where a “Made in Bangladesh” label is affixed inserted, and the clothes enter Canada duty free.
Therefore, it is extremely important that the government provide the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency with the means to monitor the rules of origin and to conduct investigations. Currently, however, it does not have the resources. The measly $5 million currently set out in the estimates will not allow the agency to act, given the complexity of the situation. Clearly, it is extremely complex. The people committing such falsification are skilled. Consequently, measures must be taken to oversee the rules of origin.
Let us hope that the government is serious when it says it is concerned about the future of these industries in Canada and Quebec and that it will take steps to ensure that the rules are respected, which is not always the case.
I am always shocked and surprised to see that Canada, particularly under this government, has earned an international reputation for being extremely naive when it comes to international trade. The former international trade minister, our resident optimist, did not help to increase awareness that people want to play with the rules of origin.
We are about the only ones who play by the rules. Everyone else uses all the tools at their disposal to bypass the rules. Canada is the only country to drastically reduce its agricultural subsidies, and open its borders without providing any help to its industries restructure and its workers retrain.
We can understand how these workers, entrepreneurs and communities would be concerned about these customs tariffs continuing to be lifted. Let us not forget that these tariffs were lifted a number of years ago.
This means that commitments more serious than those announced are in order. What good will $60 million over three years do? For example, in the softwood lumber issue, the government's aid package was totally inadequate. It was totally useless. We called for a second phase but, again, the same former international trade minister said that this second phase would be implemented in due course. The Bloc Quebecois has been calling for it for two years, and there is still nothing for the workers.
If hon. members follow what is going on in Quebec, they are aware that in recent days seasonal workers, more specifically in the North Shore region, have blocked highway 138 to show their discontent with the government's lack of action, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister.
In June of last year, the Prime Minister travelled to that region and boasted that he would support the Sans-chemise coalition, representing groups of unemployed workers, unions as well as a number of social groups. The Bloc Quebecois supports that coalition. The Prime Minister told these people that he had heard them and action would be taken.
The budget speech will be delivered this afternoon. I am anxious to see what kind of action will be taken on this issue. I am sure there will be none.
Since there is still talk of providing assistance to industries threatened by the opening up of markets, there is form of assistance we have been requesting for a very long time, which the government has not yet agreed to, and that is an older worker assistance program
For example, when a business in the apparel, textile or any other sector invests heavily in technology or equipment upgrades in order to compete, often not a single job is created to maintain its activities or increase its production. Sometime even, it must cut jobs. In an attrition process, a company could ask workers over the age of 55 who agree—instead of upgrading or learning new skills—to take immediate retirement under an older worker assistance program, which would bridge the gap until they are eligible for pension. This used to exist.
When I was at the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, many industries took advantage of a similar program. I remember, for example, a similar program at Marine Industries, as well as in the asbestos industry. It helped to humanize reorganizations and structural changes. One of the first things that the Liberal government did when it came to power was put an end to the program for older workers adjustment.
Consequently, if we are serious about wanting to help not only industries, but also those who make their living from these industries, it is essential to implement an older worker assistance program. Also, the eligibility rules and benefit levels under the employment insurance program need to be changed.
Nevertheless, more needs to be done. Perhaps we fiscal measures should be identified to encourage investment in these industries. For example, I am thinking of a measure that already exists. Members will doubtless smile. There is already a similar measure in marine construction, a sector with which our current Prime Minister is very familiar, in the environmental sector, as well as in a number of other sectors considered strategic for Canada's future. This is sometimes the case, and it may unfortunately not be used often enough.
There is an accelerated capital cost allowance program for these industries. This program could be expanded to include sectors threatened by foreign competition and the opening of our borders. This would show entrepreneurs and investors who take risks that the federal government recognizes the risks they are taking by allowing them to spread capital costs over three, four, five or six years, depending on the reality in each sector, rather than on the current rule.
These are things that must be looked into. But we must have a forum for discussing them. That said, we have asked the Standing Committee on Finance to put these items on the agenda after hearing the evidence from representatives of the apparel sector in particular.
I will tell the House one last anecdote. Did the hon. members know that a manufacturer in Bangladesh who imports his fabrics from China and makes a garment—without breaking any rules—can ship that garment to Canada with no tariff? But a Quebec or Canadian manufacturer who buys the same fabrics in China will have to pay a 19% tax on those fabrics on entry. There is something wrong with that. We are putting our own clothing sector at a disadvantage relative to foreign competition.
I want the rules of the game—as I have already said—to be the same for everyone. When I spoke about the “optimism” of the federal government with respect to international rules, that is one example. Not only do we open up our market, and that is something I agree completely with, but we also penalize our manufacturers in Quebec and Canada. That is not right. We must look into it. Since I have no confidence in the government, I want the Standing Committee on Finance to look into this state of affairs.
I will close by saying that another way to help our industry develop would be to ensure that basic rights, human rights and labour rights, are respected in those countries. Canada would be well advised to sign the International Labour Organization's conventions—something it has not done. In fact, Canada has not signed the conventions on child labour, forced labour, freedom of association or collective bargaining. In that way we can ensure that the workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh will be able to form unions, organize, negotiate good working conditions and benefit from the opening up of markets.
March 23rd, 2004 / 10:40 a.m.
Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-21. As we heard from the minister who just spoke, the bill is an act to extend the two areas of tariffs for another 10 years: the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff.
Before I go into the details of some of the bill and some of the concerns that we have, as well as some of the things we support, I want to clarify one thing which I think the minister has misunderstood.
Everyone in the House wants to support the strategy of the government that would extend these tariffs to least developed countries. Obviously it is a good thing for Canada in its strategy to help many of these developing countries. It would give the opportunity for many of these countries to actually develop their own industries, to hopefully become stronger, more developed economies.
I know the bill does not address the area of remissions because that is a separate area that is set by the Department of Finance through orders in council. Clearly, one of the things we have to be cognizant about if we are moving forward to extend these tariffs for another 10 years is we have to see what sort of measures have been kept in place in order to help Canadian industry.
In some of our strategies internationally, whether they are free trade agreements or various reciprocal agreements under various existing organizations like the WTO or the Free Trade Area of the Americas, there are certain things we have to take into consideration to ensure that Canadian industries are not put at a disadvantage. If anything, we want them to be on an equal footing or to be able to take advantage of these trade relationships that we develop with various developing countries.
In extending these tariffs what the minister failed to address was that area which I addressed in my question to him, the expiration of the remission orders that are extended specifically to textile industries. The concern is that if those particular remissions are not addressed, whether the tariffs would be reduced for inputs or whether those remission orders would be extended, we would have a serious problem in this country where some of our textile industries would be put at a huge disadvantage. As I said, their inputs would skyrocket at the end of this year, which would then threaten potential Canadian jobs as well as our relationships with trying to produce these products here at home.
I am happy the minister talked a bit about some of the products that are not available here in Canada, some of those inputs. He will try to address that and make sure that we try to address the tariffs or duties on those particular products. It would be nice to see, with the support that I believe he has in this House for the passage of this bill, the Department of Finance actually come up with some concrete steps as to how it will address those potential problems that arise after the expiration of the remission order.
I would like to address some of the good things under Bill C-21, the extension of these various tariffs in the two particular areas for the next 10 years. Obviously we on this side of the House see the benefit of that and support it.
I will give a little background and then I will address our party's position on the bill. Also, even though we agree with this particular direction of the government, I will address how we would do things a little differently, especially when it comes to pursuing more free trade agreements with various of these countries and trying to address some of the concerns that obviously are arising with various industries.
As was mentioned, Bill C-21 would extend the general preferential tariffs and the least developed country tariffs to June 30, 2014. These two tariff categories reduce the tariffs that would otherwise apply on goods imported from developing countries.
The rate of tariff on goods entering Canada varies depending upon what the good is and from which country it originates. In the absence of any specific concessions, the 35% general tariff applies. There are only a few countries that still fall under that general tariff of 35%. Most countries would have actually either negotiated a reduced tariff or they would fall under those two categories.
According to Department of Finance lists, the countries that still fall under that 35% rate are Albania, North Korea, Libya and Oman. For all other nations, unless there is a specific other trade agreement such as NAFTA, the most favoured nation tariff applies.
The rates are usually much lower than those set out in the general tariff, as I mentioned. Those are often much lower than what the Department of Finance officials said, that the average falls, I think, between 10% and 12% and often many are zero.
The rates are usually much lower, as I mentioned, and they apply to members of the World Trade Organization and to some non-members as well. Canada, along with other developed countries, has two other categories that allow goods from developing countries at even lower rates of tariff. The goal is to aid their economic development, as the minister said, and I think most Canadians tend to agree. It is a good strategy in trying to help many of the developing countries develop their economies and become self-sufficient in a positive way which is a benefit to their industry but also to Canadian industry.
The first category is the general preferential tariff which, as we know, was established in 1974 for a 10 year period until 1984. It was then extended to 1994 and then to 2004. It provides tariff reductions beyond the most favoured nation rate to approximately 180 countries. That is what we are discussing today in Bill C-21 which would extend that general tariff rate for another 10 years.
The second category, as was mentioned by the minister, is the least developed country tariff. This provides 48 of the world's poorest nations with duty free entry into Canada for goods other than certain agricultural products. It was introduced in 1983.
Some people have asked which countries fall into that category. The information is available on the government's website, but I thought it would be useful for the debate so that people have a context as to which countries fall under those tariffs. I will not read all 48 countries, but at least this will give people an idea.
The least developed country tariff applies to Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Laos, and the list goes on and on.
On a cold wintry day like today, it is kind of nice to read about these countries. It warms my heart to think that there are people enjoying nicer weather than we are here. Nonetheless the list continues on and there are a number of African countries to which the least developed country tariff applies. I will not bore the House with the rest of the list, but it gives an idea of some of the countries that are on it.
Just to give the House an idea of how this works, there is an example that I will use. Table cutlery from North Korea faces a 35% tariff under the general tariff; an 11% tariff if imported from Italy under the most favoured nation tariff; an 8% tariff if imported from Poland under the general preferential tariff; but zero tariff if imported from Angola under the least developed country tariff. As we can see that gives the incentive for Canadian importers to deal with those particular countries that fall under the least developed country tariff regime. Obviously they benefit from importing those particular products, in that they do not pay those high duties.
The general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff categories will cease to exist after June 30, 2004 unless legislation is passed to extend them. That is what we are dealing with today in the House.
The result is that importers from the beneficiary countries would instead face higher tariffs at the most favoured nation rate. That would obviously cause a problem with the developing countries.
The incentive to encourage development in many of the developing countries is a good one. I think Canadians have always been in support of various strategies that help. Whether it is foreign aid or the evolution of many of these economies, Canadians tend to support it.
There is a great benefit if, not only alongside some of our foreign aid strategies, we focus some of our strategies on developing industry which is also reciprocally beneficial to Canadian industries. That is something we have a real interest in on this side of the House, especially in the Conservative Party.
We in this party have always believed in trying to pursue significant trade agreements, freer trade agreements. We have always encouraged governments to pursue the work under various international organizations such as the WTO. We have engaged in trying to support the process under the Free Trade Area of the Americas so we can try to address some of the other areas of industry that maybe fall through the cracks or that we can actually benefit in trying to pursue freer trade agreements.
Some people have asked about one concern: How does this particular extension of these general tariffs affect our relationships in many of our trading agreements? I believe that all the extensions of these tariffs to these least developed countries, as well as general preferred countries, are regulated under the WTO. There has been much discussion and debate. We are not really doing anything different from what many other countries do in approaching the way we deal with tariffs in these countries.
There is one thing that I know has been mentioned and this is what would happen if this legislation does not pass. What will happen if we do not extend these particular preferential tariffs in these particular categories? If they expire without that extension, then we could have some real instability in our import market, clearly because of the fact that tariffs will start applying and will throw off many of the relationships we have. As I said, it would put many of our Canadian industries at a bit of a disadvantage, especially in regard to the vast number of countries we trade with.
Ultimately what we would like to see in Canada is a two-pronged strategy. We would still extend these two areas of tariff reductions. We agree with the extension of the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff.
However, one thing Canada should further pursue is free trade agreements, which will lower the tariffs in a controlled manner. This would allow Canadian exporters to access many overseas markets while opening up our own markets for cheaper imports. This is something we should continue to do. I know that Canada has a number of trade agreements with a number of countries. Whether or not they are free trade agreements, we do have bilateral trade agreements with a number of these countries. They address certain areas. Often they are not blanket trade agreements. Canadians obviously need certain products and those countries are mass producers of those products, so it is a positive relationship.
Again, this is something that we should continue to do, and not just in certain areas. On this side of the House we believe that freer trade agreements should be addressed on all levels, obviously to try to encourage further growth in developing countries but also to extend abilities for Canada where products are not available, or for exporters or business opportunities in many of these developing countries as well. We would definitely urge the government to continue to review those agreements that are in place and continue to pursue freer trade agreements.
We also would urge the government to try to encourage a less complicated system when it comes to various tariffs and various agreements being created with these countries. If Canadians decided to take a look at some of these agreements we have in place because of these two particular categories, they would see that it is a very confusing system. Also, it is very ad hoc depending on how the Department of Finance decides to deal with the particular countries.
When Department of Finance officials were at the committee, many of them said that is the way they actually deal with cases. They try not to bring in issues of human rights or other problems that they may have directly related with some of these countries. That is one way they can respond in case a conflict arises with a particular country and we do not agree with a certain direction that country is following.
Through orders in council, those various tariffs can be changed, not those under the general preferential tariff or the least developed country tariff, but in other cases that may arise when we look at sanctions or other issues. This is a tool the government has with orders in council to respond to various countries. Obviously on this side of the House we are a bit concerned about the government having that kind of power to just set tariffs ad hoc without any real process in how they would be established.
There is one area I wanted to address, which probably a few of my colleagues from the NDP and a few government members have addressed with the minister. It is the issue of remission orders. It sounds a bit complicated, but let me give an explanation. Even though it does not fall under this bill in particular, it is so closely related that we must address it.
I am happy to say that in committee, as was mentioned by one of my colleagues, the members of the committee heard from this particular group of the textile industry. We were concerned enough that we were able to pass a motion unanimously to address this issue with a couple of recommendations for the Minister of Finance, so that in the passage of this bill consideration hopefully will be given to the textile industry and the extension of those remission orders.
Remission orders have been around for quite some time, as I have identified, especially in industries that have been affected negatively. I will explain. There are remission orders for various textiles. Specifically, there was a new shirt remission order that provided shirtmakers with transitional assistance to help them remain in the shirt business in Canada. Similar remissions are also being considered for manufacturers of outerwear apparel and women's blouses and shirts. Shirting fabric and outerwear fabric are subsectors that are currently receiving assistance under existing remissions.
This means that the duties on those particular areas of fabric will be reduced. Duty remissions will enable Canadian manufacturers to complement the products they manufacture in Canada, so that would help to continue to encourage our industry to grow and flourish here in Canada. It will also help textile and apparel manufacturers in these import-sensitive sectors to adjust to the same kind of increased competition faced by shirtmakers.
As I mentioned in my question to the minister, the remissions will be terminated no later than December 31, 2004, to give Canadian manufacturers enough time to adjust to a more open freer trading regime and will not be renewed.
That was the attempt by the government to say that it wanted to put a limit on these remission orders, because if we look at the various agreements that exist within the textile industry area we see that many of them are very outdated. Ultimately there was this extension of remissions to reduce the duties in that particular area so that we would not put our own industries at a disadvantage.
But I think we have to go a bit further and modernize some of the rules under which the Department of Finance deals with this industry, because clearly they are outdated. To continue to extend remission orders is not really the answer if we can negotiate these tariff issues ahead of time, if that is allowed to happen. I believe that the former finance minister, the Prime Minister, said he was not going to extend those particular remissions. We could have a huge problem with the benefits these particular companies receive when it comes to the various inputs they rely on in producing their products.
One of the things we have agreed to, if the Department of Finance will address this issue, is to extend those particular remission orders for another seven years. We are not sure yet what the government plans to do. The minister said he is taking that into consideration, but clearly if it is not addressed before the end of the year, as I have already mentioned, we are going to put our industry at a huge disadvantage. We hope to see some indication from the Department of Finance that this issue will be addressed.
As I have said, extending this would specifically help Canadian companies with their inputs. Some of these products are not available in Canada, so clearly that is something about which we should be cognizant. If we are not producing these products at home, we should lower those tariffs because it would give the opportunity for Canadian companies to access those products. An example is lycra or other polysynthetics that are not produced here. Importing these products is very expensive.
There is another area that was not addressed by the minister. We hope the finance department and the minister will address it. There still exists a gender bias on products. I will give an example of what that means. We need to eliminate the tariffs that create this gender bias on fabric. For instance, if importers import silk to produce ties for menswear, the tariffs are not high; they fall under the preferential tariff. However, if they import silk products to produce women's blouses, they are subject to higher duties and tariffs. It is unusual that this sort of gender bias exists in this day and age. Unfortunately, the particular tariffs that apply to these textile industries have not been modernized. That is a scenario I hope to address as the committee deals with this bill. I hope to put forward some amendments or recommendations and I hope the Department of Finance will consider them.
To conclude, I will reiterate that our side of the House, the Conservative Party, will support this bill to extend these various tariffs. We think it is important given the way that our tariff system works, especially in our trading agreements around the world, but we also encourage the government to address some of the failures, especially as applied to the textile industry, but also under the FTAA and other agreements we have. We encourage the government to continue to pursue free trade agreements that will help to keep our companies in Canada on an equal footing with those in other countries as well, even alongside our developing strategies, whether they be commerce or aid related strategies.
March 23rd, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.
Denis Paradis for the Minister of Finance
moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak at third reading of Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Tariff.
This bill provides for the continuation of a longstanding policy of providing preferential tariff treatment to developing and least developed countries.
I will begin my remarks today by providing the House with some background to this issue. I will then discuss the bill and why it deserves to be passed without delay.
In the mid-1960s, there was widespread recognition that preferential tariff treatment for developing countries was a means of fostering the economic growth and well-being of poorer nations.
Consequently, in 1968, it was agreed at the United Nations conference on trade and development that a system of trade preferences should be implemented for developing countries.
This decision was implemented by most industrialized countries, including Canada, who agreed to provide more favourable treatment to products imported from developing countries than to similar products from industrialized countries. Countries also agreed that the preferential tariff programs would be generalized, non-discriminatory and non-reciprocal.
It is with those principles in mind that most industrialized countries implemented preferential tariff programs benefiting the developing world.
Canada’s program, the general preferential tariff, or GPT, was implemented on July 1, 1974 and has been renewed twice, in 1984 and 1994. The more generous least developed country tariff, or LDCT, was introduced in 1983. Both programs are set to expire on June 30, 2004.
Under the GPT, the general preferential tariff, more than 180 countries and territories are entitled to zero or low tariffs on a large majority of products that are covered under the customs tariff, with the exception of some agricultural products, refined sugar, and most textiles, apparel and footwear.
Like other industrialized countries, Canada introduced a program, the LDCT, the least developed country tariff, which provides even more generous preferential treatment to goods from the world's poorest countries as designated by the United Nations and based on a number of criteria such as national income, health and education.
Since January 2003, Canada, acting on a commitment made at the 2002 G-8 summit in Kananaskis, provides complete duty-free access under this program to all imports from 48 least developed countries except for certain agricultural goods such as dairy, poultry and eggs.
Bill C-21 simply extends both preferential tariff programs in their current form for another 10 years, from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2014, as per past practice. Extending these programs makes sense for several reasons.
First, an extension will continue a longstanding Canadian policy that is consistent with the international practice of providing preferential tariff treatment to goods from the world's poorer nations. Extending these tariff programs will simply reaffirm the government's commitment to promoting the export capability and economic growth of developing and least developed countries, the main reasons these tariff programs were established in the first place.
This brings me to the second reason for extending these programs. Continuing these programs for a fixed period of 10 years will provide certainty and predictability to the traders who use them. Exporters in developing and least developed countries will continue to benefit from the preferential access provided by the programs.
These programs have supported growth in the export sectors of many developing countries, but they still have a long way to go. Many developing countries still need preferential access to the markets of the developed world in order to improve their economic status.
Another reason to continue these programs is that they complement Canada's foreign aid policies. By allowing developing countries preferential access, we will continue Canada's tradition of assisting the developing world. We will also keep to commitments toward international development that Canada has made on many occasions in forums such as the G-8, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
Hon. members should note that all other major industrialized countries provide preferential access for developing and least developed countries and some, such as the United States, Japan and the European Union, have recently extended similar programs.
A final reason why extending these programs makes sense concerns their impact here at home. While these programs were mostly conceived as an economic assistance measure for developing and least developed countries, they also benefit Canadians by providing them with goods that are subject to lower rates of duty.
As a result of lower tariffs on goods from the developing world, Canadian consumers enjoy access to imported goods at competitive prices.
Also, Canadian producers who rely on goods from developing countries as inputs also benefit from the reduced tariff, which helps them reduce their production costs and hence, increase their competitiveness. Accordingly, these tariff programs contribute to the economic development of the beneficiary countries while allowing Canadians to benefit.
It is important to know, too, that under these programs, preferences can be withdrawn if they are found to be injurious to domestic producers. I want to assure the House that, where imports at a reduced tariff are found to be injurious to Canadian producers of particular goods, the government has the means to remove the lower tariff for such goods.
There is another point I want to make before closing. Not only will this bill allow for the continuation of Canada’s support for economic growth within the developing world, these programs will continue to make an important contribution to the Canadian economy.
In 2003, Canadian imports under the GPT and LDCT were valued at $9.7 billion, and these programs reduced the amount of tariffs paid by Canadian importers by approximately $273 million. I mentioned earlier that the reasons that justified the introduction of the GPT and the LDCT decades ago still remain.
The economies of many developing countries still have to make great strides if their citizens are to attain acceptable income levels. Despite the progress of the past decades, the United Nations estimates that 1.2 billion people—one-fifth of the world’s population—still live on less than US$1 a day.
Bill C-21 constitutes one substantive measure Canada can take to continue to assist the developing world in achieving the goal of poverty reduction and continues Canada’s long tradition of helping poorer nations.
In considering this bill, I encourage hon. members to keep in mind that Canada stands with all other major industrialized nations—the United States, Japan and the European Union—in supporting the developing world through preferential tariff programs.
I would also encourage hon. members to keep the following points in mind:first, that a 10-year extension of these programs is consistent with past practice and will continue to provide a predictable business environment to traders—we will know where we are going; andthat a 10-year extension of these programs will reaffirm the government’s long-term commitment to international development.
In closing, I simply want to remind the House that our colleague, the Minister of Industry, recently announced various aid measures, in particular for the Canadian textile and apparel industry, for a total of approximately $60 million over the next three years.
I encourage all hon. members to support this bill.