Evidence of meeting #27 for International Trade in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was municipalities.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Nadir Patel  Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Finance and Operations, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

We'd like to call the meeting to order.

We want to thank the minister for taking time out of his busy schedule to be with us. He's been around the world in his continual round-the-world trip, and we appreciate the work that he does on behalf of Canada on international trade. It's great to have him here talking about the estimates today.

We encourage the committee to go over to the opening of the Brand India Expo afterwards. We've been invited to go over and take part in it.

Our time is limited, and we want to get started on questions and answers in the time that the minister has. So we'll go right to it. Minister, the floor is yours.

11 a.m.

Abbotsford
B.C.

Conservative

Ed Fast Minister of International Trade

Thank you, Chair.

I'm pleased to be with all of you today. It's a real pleasure to be in front of a committee that dedicates itself to an issue vital to Canada's long-term prosperity.

Canada is, and always will be, a proud trading nation. Our past, present, and future prosperity is directly linked to reaching beyond our borders for economic opportunities. Free and open trade has long been a powerful engine for Canada's economy. It is even more so in these globally challenging economic times.

In communities across our country, people's jobs and how they provide for their families depend on how our businesses succeed around the world. Our government understands the importance of trade to our economy. It represents one out of every five jobs in Canada, and it accounts for somewhere on the order of 64.5% of our gross domestic product. I have a focus on connecting the dots for Canadians—the dots between trade and our long-term economic prosperity.

The world economy remains fragile and uncertain. To be sure, our country has fared better than most. About 610,000 more Canadians are working today than when the recession ended. This is the strongest employment performance in the G-7. Our real GDP is now significantly above pre-recession levels, which is also the best performance in the G-7.

These strengths are becoming part of Canada's good story in the markets of the world. I hear it all the time when I meet with my counterparts around the world, who are impressed with our country's ability to remain strong during tough times. But we cannot rest on our laurels. The world is a competitive place. We need to ensure that Canadian businesses and the federal government are working together to tip the balance in favour of Canada. Armed with the right access to the right markets and supported by the right tools and services, Canadians can compete and win against the best in the world, anywhere in the world. In fact, I often say to my counterparts that Canadians are fierce competitors, but we compete fairly. That's my focus as minister, and it's the focus of my department. For Canada there is no better job creator and economic growth generator than free and open trade.

Our government's free trade plan is the most ambitious of its kind in Canadian history. It recognizes one central fact. While the United States will always be Canada's largest and most important trading partner, we know that deepening and expanding our trade—especially with large, dynamic, high-growth economies—will protect and strengthen the financial security of families in every region of Canada.

Canada's economy depends on looking elsewhere for new opportunities. That's why, in the last six years, our government has concluded trade agreements with nine countries, including Panama and Jordan. These agreements are now being debated in the House.

That's just the beginning. We're negotiating with many more global partners, including the EU. Our talks towards a comprehensive economic and trade agreement are moving forward. We're on track to wrap up negotiations by the end of the year. The potential from this agreement is enormous for Canadian workers. The scoping study that preceded these negotiations indicated that our economy would grow by something on the order of $12 billion per year, or the equivalent of 80,000 new Canadian jobs. That works out to about $1,000 in the pocket of the average family.

We're also expecting sizable benefits from a successful agreement with India, one of the world's most promising economies. A joint study concluded that an agreement with India could boost Canada's economy by at least $6 billion per year.

We'll also be discussing Canada's possible participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I just returned from Southeast Asia, where I visited the countries of Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. I was pleased to see that Canada's interest in joining the talks has been positively received. It's a great opportunity to increase Canada's trade in Asia.

I also had the honour of joining the Prime Minister on his recent trade mission to China, another good example of our commitment to increase our trans-Pacific trade. That visit to China set the stage for an even more strategic Canada-China partnership in the years ahead. While there, we announced that we'll enter into exploratory discussions on deepening our trade and economic relations following the completion of an economic complementarities study that is presently under way and which we expect to complete in May.

These are great opportunities to bring our partnership to the next level. As we move forward on these and other initiatives, we're also supporting businesses in other ways. That includes supporting it through our Trade Commissioner Service, which I often say is Canada's best-kept secret—and it's my job to make sure it's not a secret any longer.

I really would like to thank the committee for undertaking a study of the Trade Commissioner Service. I have very much come to appreciate the great importance this service has to Canadian exporters, investors, and innovators. Our trade commissioners have been a vital tool in the business plans of Canada's exporters, investors, and innovators for over a century.

In cities worldwide and also in offices across Canada, you can find our trade commissioners helping our businesses, large and small, break into new markets. Armed with market intelligence and expert advice they work closely with Canadian companies as they look to expand and succeed abroad.

The Trade Commissioner Service connects Canadian business people with the right decision-makers overseas so that they can grow their business and create jobs and prosperity in Canada. We want our businesses that are looking for new trade opportunities to be successful, and the Trade Commissioner Service facilitates that.

The Trade Commissioner Service also focuses specifically on small and medium-sized businesses. Last year we served over 13,000 Canadian firms, mostly SMEs, which was a 10% increase over the year before. As I mentioned earlier, the Trade Commissioner Service has a great record.

A recent study showed that exporters receiving assistance from the Trade Commissioner Service enjoy an average export value 18% higher than that of comparable exporters who don't use the service. Since April of last year, trade commissioners have been involved in facilitating $12.1 billion worth of investments, which will create more than 4,200 jobs. New science and technology partnerships have been created with India, China, Brazil, and of course Israel, leading to more than 80 cooperative projects and exchanges involving more than 1,000 highly qualified people.

The Trade Commissioner Service is also constantly adjusting to an ever-changing environment. Since 2006 we've opened 15 new trade offices in key markets, such as Brazil, India, and China, in recognition of the growing importance of emerging markets and also to ensure that Canadian companies can take advantage of these exciting business opportunities.

Simply put, we're making better use of Canada's diplomatic assets in advancing the interests of Canadian businesses around the world. We're ensuring that our resources are geared toward our top trade priorities. This is the best way to help Canadian businesses succeed in high-growth markets around the world.

Throughout our efforts, we'll continue to look to your committee for advice and ideas as we create jobs and prosperity for Canadians through deeper trade and investment ties with our global partners.

Thank you. I look forward to our discussions today.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

We'll start the questions and answers.

Mr. Masse, you have seven minutes.

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here with us today.

One of the concerns I have, coming from a manufacturing area, is with the loss of well-paying value-added jobs and how we reclaim them. The Canadian Commercial Corporation is one of the funded agencies that's supposed to help, but it's reducing its requests by $500,000. I'm wondering what your vision is with regard to manufacturing and trade.

In 2005 this country had a $15.9 billion trade imbalance as a deficit in trade of manufactured goods. In 2006 it went to $27.9 billion; in 2007 it went to $32.3 billion; in 2008 it went to $58.7 billion; in 2009 it went to $75.2 billion. Finally, in the last statistics available there is a trade deficit of $80.8 billion for manufactured goods from our country.

Perhaps you could highlight your specific strategies to reverse this trend. We should be more than just the hewers of logs and stewards of oil, shipping out raw and natural resources. Our value-added industries are certainly struggling, and I'd like to hear about your vision with regard to international trade and how we reverse these numbers since your administration has come into power.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Thank you so much for that question, Mr. Masse.

I can tell you that I as trade minister strongly believe that trade is a key driver of economic growth in Canada. That's why my focus is on opening up new markets for those very manufacturers you've talked about, so that they will be able to sell into new markets. And it's not only about manufactured goods; it's about Canadians providing services around the world, because we can compete and we can do so effectively.

You mentioned the trade imbalance. As you know, in the last year our bilateral trade balance actually had a $10 billion turnaround, and that's good news for Canada. I believe it indicates that our aggressive trade policy, which is looking to open up new markets for Canadian businesses, is working. I believe that going forward that policy will serve us well. We have a long way to go yet to get to the point where Canada is maximizing its potential, but I believe we're off to a good start.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Do you have anything specific for manufacturers? What do you say to those who invested in our country and who watch our natural resources leave—say, for example, oil and other types of resources used by other countries that then turn around to penetrate our markets here, countries that have lower environmental standards, for example, or health or wage standards, while those manufacturing companies that have invested so much in Canada lose to this and consider it unfair competition because of the subsidies? Ironically, they're competing...it's Canadian raw natural resources versus their investment in not only just the actual manufactured equipment but also the human resources, on this ground.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Thank you.

First of all, I'm not going to make any apologies for the natural resources Canada has been blessed with. This is a competitive advantage that Canada has been given. Every country has been given certain advantages. Our challenge, of course, as a country is to maximize those resources.

One of the ways we do that is to forge new trading relationships, provide new opportunities for Canadians to compete around the world, provide new markets. It's one of the reasons we're focusing on the European Union. It's a market of some 500 million consumers. These are people we want to reach with our goods and services. We're making excellent progress on those negotiations.

As you know, we've also had a special focus on the Asia Pacific, opening doors in China and places such as Korea and Southeast Asia, where I've travelled extensively.

Our opportunity as Canadians is, first of all, the fact that we are highly educated, we are innovative, and we are blessed in natural resources. Putting that package together is the challenge, and opening up new markets for those skills, for that expertise, and for those manufactured goods is also the challenge. I'm working very hard to do that.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

With regard to the EU, can you confirm whether supply management is on the table, and second to that, whether or not your administration will respect city councils such as Toronto's that do not want to be part of the European trade agreement? Will specific motions and requests from the mayor and city council be respected?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

On supply management, we have made it very clear. This government's position is that we will continue to defend Canada's system of supply management. We have also said we're prepared to discuss all issues at the table. And we've reminded our trading partners with whom we're either negotiating or hoping to negotiate that in any trade negotiation the parties bring certain sensitivities to the table, as Canada does—as the EU does.

We will vigorously defend Canadian interests, but we've made it very clear that we will continue to defend Canada's system of supply management.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

What about Toronto city council's motion and those of other municipalities?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

That's the second question.

As you know, both Canada and the European Union are focused on concluding negotiations for a highly ambitious trade agreement. One area, of course, is the area of government procurement. We believe that if it's done responsibly, it can serve Canada's interest in a very significant way.

You probably know that we have consulted broadly with municipalities right across this country. I've met directly with the leadership of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on at least two occasions. That's in addition to phone calls we've had on the various issues involved in the CETA negotiation, and I can tell you that the leadership is strongly supportive of an ambitious conclusion to these negotiations.

These are the most collaborative and transparent negotiations Canada has ever undertaken. As you know, the provinces are at the table in areas of provincial jurisdiction.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mayor Ford and his council have been almost unanimous with regard to their condemnation of CETA and with regard to procurement and other things. What do you say to them? Obviously they're not swayed by the FCM.

There are others, such as British Columbia, for example. Their provincial body is against CETA.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Time has gone, but you can give just a quick answer.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

What I can tell you, again, is that we have consulted broadly across Canada. And the assurance I can provide you with is this: Canada will only sign trade agreements that are in Canada's best interest. As trade minister, I'm not going to sign off on an agreement that doesn't serve Canada's long-term interest. That is what I've communicated to municipalities across the country. I've communicated that to the provinces and territories.

Interestingly enough, we recently had our federal-provincial-territorial meeting of trade ministers, and there was unanimity, a complete consensus, on the fact that Canada needs to complete the negotiation of an ambitious trade agreement with the European Union. And I believe we're on track to do that.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Mr. Keddy.