Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to hopefully contribute somewhat to the debate before the House on Bill C-32.
I do not necessarily attach myself to very much, if anything, that the previous speaker puts before the House other than to say that at the very least his party and he himself have been consistent in their approach to this issue.
The member spoke in his remarks about Jack and the Beanstalk . I am reminded of other fairytale red book promises that pertain to this issue of free trade.
As I listened to the member, I could not help but think that the current Prime Minister would have been on the other side of the barrier in Quebec City if that free trade negotiation had taken place in the 1980s. He would have been out there with the protestors. He would have been espousing the complete opposite position that his current government is presenting through Bill C-32.
However, we are certainly glad that the Prime Minister has seen the error of his ways and recognizes that this is a global trend and the direction in which countries, not only in North America but countries worldwide, are headed in terms of liberalizing trade to the benefit of those participating countries.
That is not to say that it does not take a great deal of intellect and a great deal of effort in negotiating these agreements to see that they are beneficial. I will give the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre and his party their due. They raise very important issues that pertain to human rights, working conditions and the type of social issues that are very often given short shrift in these negotiations. We do know that the multinationals and companies that engage in trade are interested in the bottom line. There are national state concerns that often should be addressed during these negotiations.
The bill recognizes that a Central American country, like Costa Rica, is a very dynamic and developing country. This is a country that arguably has led the way for that region of the world. As other members have pointed out, this small country is a very interactive, democratic country. It has implemented a new constitution. It has a bicameral system of parliament. It has checks and balances which, in many ways, we ourselves might learn from.
Former President Arias hosted the first meeting that was the precursor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. The diplomatic skills exercised by Costa Rican politicians are very admirable on a number of levels.
Of interest is the fact that Costa Rica has no military budget. It has a national police force but much of its resources and much of its governmental focus is on trade, which is beneficial to those countries that wish to participate, as Canada will, under this new agreement.
In terms of Central American standards, Costa Rica is very much at the forefront. It has been very proactive in reaching out not only to Mexico and the United States but now, through this agreement, it is looking north. It is exploring new markets looking for ways in which it can export its raw and manufactured materials and looking to improve the standard of living and the quality of life for its citizens by enabling access to goods and services to which it might not otherwise have access.
Costa Rica has a very extensive program for social housing which would be of interest to many Canadians. A number of Canadian construction companies have played a very active role in Costa Rica's attempt to provide adequate shelter and housing for its citizens.
Opportunities for both participants in this agreement abound. Costa Rica has co-operated closely in the past with other countries. It has exhibited the goodwill that is tantamount to a good basis of bridge building when it comes to trade.
Some of the purposes behind Bill C-32 will evolve over time. Much like the commentary we hear quite often about the benefits of trade, time will tell.
I would be quick to point out that some of the same arguments that we have heard against this agreement were heard prior to 1988. In fact some of the members opposite on the government side, who are now wrapping their arms around the legislation, endorsing it and espousing its virtues, were the same members who stood on this side of the House and berated the government of Brian Mulroney and the Conservative Party of Canada for taking the initiative, for spending the political capital that is sometimes necessary, and for taking the risk that is sometimes necessary for the good of the country.
I think even the most critical of individuals in viewing free trade would have to admit that huge benefits have accrued to this country, particularly for the people of western Canada who are very much the beneficiaries of this particular practice of free trade.
Bill C-32 would implement all the negotiation that took place leading up to this bill. I believe the agreement itself was signed in April 2000. Miguel Angel Rodriguez, the president of Costa Rica, was here in Canada signing the agreement, and the bill would put those elements into effect.
It is quite clear that Costa Rica's economy is growing and expanding rapidly, arguably not at a rate that we would consider rapid by North American standards, but it is certainly moving in a direction that will help its citizens, help to improve conditions and help to improve those very essential things that all humanitarians should be concerned about.
This is a chance for Costa Rica. This is a legitimate opportunity that it hopes to seize upon. To its credit, it has been very proactive in looking at other countries' economies and trying to find a way in which it can be a greater participant in those economies.
The agreement itself will be two way in terms of the merchandise exchanged between Canada and Costa Rica. It is interesting to note that in the year 2000 the trade between our two nations rose by $269 million according to figures. That was a jump of 25% over that short period of time. The agreement itself would naturally accelerate that growth.
We have to take into account, as others have, the difference in size of economy and levels of development. However I believe there is a mechanism that is supposed to help integrate this trade system, this difference in the size of the economy and that is that Canada will, more or less, move at a more rapid rate in terms of liberalizing trade. Our economy will be more open to Costa Rican products at a faster rate. The lack of tariffs will be phased in in Canada over eight years, whereas in the Costa Rican example it will be over fourteen years.
Our borders will be open at an earlier rate allowing Costa Rica to tap into the Canadian market somewhat quicker, taking into account this difference in size and scale of economy.
I would suggest that the overall benefit to eliminating the trade barriers is to facilitate these goods and services at an accelerated rate and facilitate and promote conditions of fair competition that are the underpinnings of any free trade agreement. Those are set out in some detail by the enactment of this bill. It would also establish a framework for further bilateral, regional and multilateral co-operation to expand throughout the years and create effective procedures for implementation and application of the agreement.
Also built into this contract, as in any contract, are methods of dispute resolution and of monitoring the progress. Where disputes might break out there will be a procedure that can be followed to try to resolve those types of disputes.
Some of the products that will be affected in the short term will include fruit, coffee, raw sugar, gold, flowers and jams, Costa Rican imports that we currently see quite often on the Canadian market.
The trade agreement will allow those products to come into Canada with ease, with fewer tariffs in the coming years, and will allow those companies, because of their climate and agricultural potential, a greater market and potential for growth and therefore a higher standard of living when they achieve the success they badly want.
On the other hand, Canada currently exports to Costa Rica paper, wheat, potato products and automotive parts. When I think of potatoes I will not say the solicitor general. I am obviously thinking of the potato crisis Prince Edward Islanders have faced in recent years and the great potential the agreement will provide for them.
They suffered through two abysmal years in terms of their potato exports because of the potato wart which was blown hugely out of proportion. We were virtually excluded from entering the American market. This will provide a new and large market for potato products.
For provinces like Prince Edward Island I would suggest that Bill C-32, which brings to effect free trade with Costa Rica, will expand their potential and help island potato farmers explore this new market.
I draw attention to some of the other positive elements of the agreement that include building up the free trade of the Americas, which links the 34 countries currently in North America that are working with South America. That unfortunately is something upon which perhaps we have not focused enough. The expanding markets in Central America and in all of South America is the direction in which we recognize we are moving.
Canada has taken a much more inclusive view and can play a much more active leadership role in this regard. I would suggest that this step is very much reflective and representative of Canada's leadership role.
Canada's national identity, the Canadian economy and our competitiveness as a trading nation are areas of which we have to be very conscious. We have to be innovative. We have to portray ourselves as a country that is ready and willing to take part in this vibrant new economy.
That was the intent behind the original free trade agreement with the United States, followed up by NAFTA. This is a natural extension of the direction in which the Canadian economy is moving.
The Government of Canada, Canadian producers and Canadian manufacturers can benefit if we go about this in an intelligent and aggressive way.
About 94% of Canada's current agriculture and agri-food exports to Costa Rica will get better access as a direct result of the implementation of this bill. Goodness knows we need to make extraordinary efforts at this time to help our farmers with the drought situation that has been endured in western Canada.
Throughout the country there have been extreme weather conditions and climate turns which have grossly affected the ability of the agricultural industry in Canada. Blueberry farmers in the province of Nova Scotia have suffered great hardships due to the dry conditions this past summer.
When we sign agreements with countries like Costa Rica and other South American and Central American countries, it opens up new markets for our agricultural industry. Canada's exporters will gain an important advantage over some of their principle competitors in Costa Rica, including American, European and Asian suppliers.
Therefore, by giving Costa Ricans preferential trade partners in North America we can be competitive with some of those other countries that have in the past associated themselves and traded with Costa Rica. Costa Ricans hopefully will be looking to Canada as opposed to some of the far off European countries to which in the past there has been a propensity for Costa Ricans to turn.
As with every trade agreement and contractual obligation there are concerns that have to be examined and kept in mind. There are shared concerns on the part of Costa Ricans and Canadians.
As I understand it, Costa Rica currently exports only raw sugar and does not refine sugar within its own boundaries. In the event that Costa Rica as a result of the trade agreement starts to construct refineries and export refined sugar, Canadian sugar producers would have real concern. They have expressed concern already. I know that the member for Saint John has long been a proponent of protecting and assisting the sugar refining industry in her province of New Brunswick. This is one issue that has been raised by sugar producers in Canada as a direct upshot of the proposed agreement. Costa Rica is also a labour intensive country. Having just said that there may be benefits to the increased open market for potato farmers, I will note that some producers have raised concerns about the impact on frozen potatoes exported to Costa Rica from Canada.
These are a just couple of industry related concerns that have been raised by Canadians who would be impacted directly by Bill C-32.
Canada has an obligation to enter into these agreements in good faith and to maintain good bilateral relations with our other significant trading partners. At the same time we have to diversify the market and seek additional international trade agreements. That is exactly what the bill would do.
The direction in which we are headed is very much one the Progressive Conservative/Democratic Representative Caucus Coalition supports. It has been our consistent position in doing so that Canada must play a leading and aggressive role at a time when countries are re-examining their relations with other countries vis-à-vis trade and security and on any number of levels.
To that end there is implicit in all our efforts an emphasis on the responsibility of government to proceed with caution but also, I would suggest, with some degree of aggression when looking for new markets to bolster the Canadian economy to ensure that we are competitive and innovative in a very competitive global time.
We support the initiative. We support the direction of Bill C-32 and similar types of agreements. It is imperative as well that we in the Parliament of Canada have an opportunity to have our say and to have input. We must look at the bill at the committee level. We must hear from witnesses who have specific information about the countries in question, the pros and cons of the agreement, the benefits and the contractual obligations that will flow from it.
On balance we feel it is good legislation that is consistent with the direction in which Canada is headed. We feel it would help Canadian producers engage in free markets and it would raise access to products by lowering tariffs.
To that end and for those reasons set out, the coalition will be supporting the legislation. We look forward to its implementation. We hope to see the government play a leadership role in its new and, I would submit, post-1993 support of free trade agreements.
This is the type of legislation Canada needs if it is to be a global competitor in the 21st century.