Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend certain acts as a result of the accession of the People's Republic of China to the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization.
Westerners and North Americans have had various visions of China over the years. First, I think it has always been for us the land of all inventions. One just has to think of paper, rice growing and all kinds of inventions showing that the Chinese have often been more advanced than the rest of the planet. These inventions are still used today on a regular basis.
It is also a land of missions. Missionaries from Quebec and Canada went to China, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century, and projected a certain vision of China in their relationships with Quebecers and Canadians.
It is also a communist country which, after World War II and because of efforts made during the war, chose a government that had concrete objectives to ensure that everyone had food to eat and a place to stay.
We must always look at these decisions in the context of what the country went through and avoid making judgments based only on our perceptions as westerners, without taking into account the reality. But the Chinese revolution is still an important aspect. The father of the Chinese revolution, Mao Zedong, brought deep changes to the Chinese society. Today, the Communist Party of China is still running the country and is trying to adapt to the realities of today's world. It is another aspect of China that we have seen these past few years.
Over the last ten years in particular, it has become the caricature of a country ruled by free market and unbridled capitalism, just as we would have probably seen in North America in the late 1800s or early 1900s.
I believe we must look at the reality of China. That is why I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak, as the vice-president of the Canada-China Parliamentary Association. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to China and see for myself, during a brief but informative two week visit, some of the reality of eastern China, by far the most developed part. China has met some extraordinary challenges in terms of economic development. It has created entire new cities from scratch, some of them models as far as environmental concerns go. I think we could take a few pages from their book in this area.
There is a whole other aspect to China, however, the western part. Then there is the matter of China's relations with Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong. These are all very important points.
As for the international trade agreement, implementation of which will make it possible for China to accede to the WTO, and to have an entry into Canada under that agreement, let us recall that there are 1.250 billion people in China. Such a large population requires a particular kind of administration. Governing a country with a population of 30 million, as we have in Canada, is not the same as governing a country of 1.250 billion. It is the seventh ranking world economy and the ninth ranking in exports. Its population accounts for one-fifth of the world's total population.
We are therefore dealing with a country that is a power unto itself because of its population numbers and its actions. Within 20 or 25 years, China may have made unprecedented progress and may even have become the leading economic power in the world.
Something we should bear in mind is that, ultimately, what we are doing here in amending our statutes to provide for the accession of China to the WTO and to adapt Canada's and Quebec's legislation, is being done to increase bilateral trade between the two countries. For Quebecers and Canadians, there are clear benefits in having access to the Chinese market, and China has an interest in having access to our market and skills. In that sense, this agreement seems relevant and positive for both parties.
Included in the positive outcomes is the development of China. We are witnessing an improvement in production, which is very important, and in the quality of life there. My discussions with Chinese parliamentarians and private citizens suggest that in the last ten years, the quality of life has improved significantly in China, especially in urban areas.
But there are still daunting challenges to take up in rural areas. We can have exchanges on this, because we also have a long way to go. Setting up a Canada-China parliamentary association to foster discussions on this among parliamentarians has been a significant development. These discussions are part and parcel of all that needs to be done and of the relationship that should be maintained between our two countries.
This new way of doing things is quite the challenge for China's economy, and also for the whole western world. In the year 2000, trade between Canada and China totalled some $15 billion.
There are challenges to be met. China, Canada, Quebec and all the countries that are part of the WTO must create more wealth. But this also means that we have to deal with all the problems relating to the distribution of this wealth, and with the concerns relating to regional development. As we saw, the major challenge for the Chinese is to develop the vast natural resources located in the western part of China.
During the discussions that I had with Chinese parliamentarians, I told them, based on our experience in Quebec and in Canada that “it is fine to develop natural resources, but if you undertake this process, you must find ways to ensure secondary or tertiary processing from the outset, to avoid situations where certain regions are dependent on central regions and, in the end, the economic support provided is insufficient for them to catch up”.
So, the distribution of wealth is a challenge. Discussions are taking place between Chinese and Canadian parliamentarians, including some from Quebec, on how to generate wealth in an open economy as opposed to a state controlled economy, and on how to distribute this wealth.
The Chinese government is pondering certain issues. Should it set up an employment insurance program? Is the Canadian model adequate? Are there other ways of doing this? The Chinese asked questions and they are trying to determine what is appropriate. We should continue this dialogue with them.
It must also be realized that China is facing this extraordinary challenge at a time when the Chinese government is about to undergo a change. A clear pattern has been noticed in recent years and decades. What spirit will drive China's new elected politicians and leaders? Will they keep going in the same direction?
It is in our best interests, I believe, to maintain relations with China, through measures such as its accession to the WTO, to allow us to help the Chinese in their efforts. In so doing, we will benefit from what they can teach us, just like they benefit from what we can teach them.
There is also a considerable challenge as far as international assistance is concerned. China is not simply a developing country, nor is it simply a very developed country, it is a country dealing with both of these realities. In terms of economic development, eastern China's growth has outperformed that of Canada for several years. In western China, conditions are comparable to those in developing countries, in Africa or elsewhere in Asia. This reality will require that the Government of Canada take a more flexible approach, one that will take into consideration this reality.
If we simply compare China as a whole, we will end up with an approach that does not correspond to either part of China. We need to take this into account when setting up co-operation between Canada and China, keeping in mind that the Government of Canada has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to foreign assistance.
There are priorities, such as Africa. The Prime Minister wants this to be taken care of this summer, at the G-8 summit. However, judging from his last trip, there was not enough leadership to provide innovative ideas that would help rebuild the African economy. The Government of Canada needs to invest more money and be open to new methods of international co-operation. As for China, it will require a more original approach due to the conditions that I mentioned earlier.
Canada also has the challenge of dealing with Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a very significant entry point for Canadian immigration. Now, with economic change and more openness, the Chinese may have easier access to Canada by going directly through the government of the people's republic without necessarily having to go through Hong Kong. This would require very different services for these clients. As a result, the available resources should be redistributed. We may want to have more officials present in China to provide this service adequately.
There is also an interesting model. Indeed, Taiwan is a member of the WTO, as is the People's Republic of China. I was musing that, if the Canadian government had a similar philosophy, perhaps Quebec could have been a member of the WTO, as is Canada, and would have been able to express its views. However, the level of flexibility observed in China—as the result of history, of course—has not yet been reached here.
I would add to this picture the vision that I developed during my trip to China, last year, to really show the evolution and the reality there.
First, we travelled to Beijing, the capital of China, where the meeting of the people's national convention is held annually. It is the equivalent of the House of Commons, but it does not sit quite as long. Still, there are 3,000 delegates at the people's national convention. This means that, instead of having a House of Commons with 301 members such as we have here, there are 3,000 delegates in parliament. This creates a totally different approach. People who sit in parliament are not only from the Chinese majority, but also different ethnic communities. We can see that China is not monolithic. It is made up of a number of particular components.
Beijing is also a city and a capital that is being totally transformed and undergoing a lot of modernization. It also carries China's history. When one visits the Forbidden City, one can understand certain things about how the Chinese approach the world. It is important to know this aspect of reality. The Olympic Games will be held there in 2008. This is another aspect of their opening up and, in this regard, everyone in the world wants to give China a chance to take its place. The Chinese really have the ability to do so. When they pursue development, one can be sure that things go well. I strongly believe that they will be ready for the 2008 games.
I also visited Shanghai, an ultramodern city which has undergone several periods of colonization by the French, the English and other communities which influenced its development. However, it is still an important world trading hub. It is clear from the volume of transactions in its stock exchange that this is a very important part of the world when it comes to trade.
A neighbourhood has been developed there which makes it an ultramodern city. One has the feeling of being in a city of the 21st or 22nd century. This is an aspect of avant-garde China that we did not know about, but which is a sign of things to come in the next 10, 15 or 20 years in the economic development of China, with respect to the place it will occupy internationally and the balance it will help to create vis-à-vis the major power represented by the United States of America. Since the iron curtain has come down, since Communist government almost world-wide have been overturned and parliamentary democracies put in their place, Americans might, in some respects, be tempted to throw their weight around a bit.
I think that it is in our interest that the hubs be diversified and that we use the opportunity presented by China and its vast market, its economic potential and its great influence in Asia, to strike a balance on our planet. Ultimately, it could benefit both international decision-making and bilateral trade.
Obviously, there are challenges associated with signing an agreement such as the one concerning the accession of China to the WTO. It will require the development of even greater mutual respect between the two countries.
We even see this with our neighbour to the south, with whom we have long had a special relationship. We realize that a strong economy such as the U.S. can have a tendency—this is very clear in the case of the softwood lumber crisis—to take a bit of an imperialistic and protectionist attitude, an attitude that expects a small country like Canada to bow to the dictates of the U.S. economy.
So international agreements bring some discipline to these relations. We are going through some difficult periods, and the great American economy is still using measures to try to silence Quebec and Canada in the softwood lumber dispute. However, the WTO will make a ruling which, I believe, will be favourable to Canada.
The same thing may happen with China. It will be important for both sides to understand that there probably will be disputes to settle, but that it will be possible to do so within the WTO structure, which is far better than settling disputes in an unregulated context where the strongest always wins. We will certainly have the opportunity to influence each other.
As far as the judicial system is concerned, we could pass on to them elements which could easily be integrated in their own system and allow for a better harmonization between the will to administer justice and the way to do it. I think we have some co-operation in this area.
It seems to me that there is another very important aspect, and it is one of the main reasons why the Bloc Quebecois supports this bill. China and Quebec have developed a very special relationship.
Let us not forget that, during Mr. Bouchard's last economic mission, when he was still the Premier of Quebec, an agreement was signed for a Chinese textile company to open a plant, the China World Best, in Drummondville. It has now been built along the Jean-Lesage highway, and we can see the Chinese flag flying alongside those of Canada and Quebec.
Finally, it is the first investment outside China that is made this way. It was because the Chinese found in that region workers with expertise in the area of textile, and also because there is some kind of sentimental connection between Quebec and China.
Let us not forget that China is currently the country where the largest number of inter-country adoptions are negotiated by Quebecers. I think this is very important to the Chinese people, and we must understand that.
Before having business dealings, before getting involved in trade, those people need to have a well established personal relationship. They have to trust those they are dealing with. In that regard, they seem to have hit it off with Quebecers.
I noticed this, especially when I visited Shanghai. Besides Canadian representatives, we met with the Quebec delegate in Shanghai, Mr. Milot, who made me aware of these facts. He even came to Rivière-du-Loup the year after to give a lecture and to meet with potential exporters from my area and look at market development opportunities. At that time we were saying, “China will join WTO in the a few years and that will give us additional opportunities”.
We have now reached that point. The time has come for us to pass the legislation so that Canadian laws are consistent with the agreement allowing China to join the WTO.
We will have to meet particular challenges to enter these markets and get our share. I know that many engineering firms from Quebec have projects, in particular with regard to international co-operation in China. There is much interest in pursuing this.
Not a week goes by without a Chinese delegation coming to Quebec to meet with people who would like to be partners in economic development. Over the next few years, these visits will continue yield very promising results.
The last time a group of parliamentarians came to visit, we went to the Quebec National Assembly. The group was able to watch a debate between Bernard Landry and Jean Charest on the Quebec national issue. I was very proud that they were made aware of that reality. This can be done through interpersonal contacts, when parliamentarians come to visit us and when we go to China. Then we go beyond economic issues to establish personal relationships that will help to enhance co-operation.
Canada has a good reputation in China. Members will recall that Doctor Norman Bethune fought beside Chinese revolutionaries in the army of Mao Zedong. He has become a symbol for the Chinese. When Chinese parliamentarians come to Canada, they show great respect for him; they want to see the house where he grew up. Doctor Bethune spent a good part of his life in Montreal. He fought in Spain during the civil war, then went to China. He was an extraordinary ambassador for Canada. We can use this image to move things forward and improve not only our economic relationship but also our cultural and social relationship with China.
A good example of this is the Cirque du Soleil, which will set up in China. On the cultural level but also in terms of employment, this is a sector where we thought that the Chinese could bring us something, which remains quite possible anyway, but we will also have an exchange in that area, and the Cirque du Soleil will be present in China.
The agreement itself provides an opportunity to access an extraordinary market. It will also be a fantastic challenge. The 12 years provided for will be truly needed. This also implies on our part that we understand that in a win-win relationship, the Chinese will gain access to part of our market, while we will gain access to part of theirs, thus increasing co-operation, and economic, cultural and social exchanges.
One issue remains very sensitive however, and that is Tibet. It is believed that the accession of China to the WTO will give us greater influence through our relationship with the Chinese people and the Chinese government. I believe this is the right approach.
A concrete example of this is the fact that the Canada-China Parliamentary Association will travel to Tibet during its upcoming mission, in May. The Chinese themselves have offered us this opportunity. We will thus be able to witness firsthand what is going on and to assess the situation not only on the basis of what we will be shown but also through personal contacts and our personal assessment. I think this is the right way to advance issues.
During that trip, we plan to visit western China, where much remains to be done in terms of development. In that area of international co-operation, there is room for much collaboration between Canada and China, with great benefits for both. I think China's accession to the WTO will also be useful in this respect.
To conclude, I think it is important to be realistic about our relationship with China. It is important to ask ourselves questions about our overall relationship with China. We should not shy away from asking the tough questions. What does the future hold for Tibet? How does China see its relation with Tibet? All the discussions I have had so far have always been quite straightforward.
We can help this giant of a country which is China to take its place in diplomatic and economic relations around the world. This would also promote trade expansion. And then economic growth will lead to peace on earth, improved human rights and mutual understanding and assistance. We should not simply pass judgment on what is going on while ignoring history.
This means that, for all these reasons, it is appropriate for us to support this legislative proposal we have before us, which amends the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Act, the Customs Tariff Act and the Export and Import Permits Act.
This has some similarities to the signature of a treaty, which is interesting. It may be something the Canadian government should give priority to, that is having treaties ratified here on a regular basis, so that the House of Commons, which represents the population as a whole, can have a say, not just the Canadian government.
If this situation could serve as a precedent, that might indeed be worthwhile. In fact, what we are voting on here is legislative amendments to Canadian statutes, but at the same time this is a sort of agreement in principle or ratification by the House of Commons of the negotiations carried on for some years between China and the WTO and a number of countries, so that in the end an agreement can be reached that will make it possible to increase economic, social and cultural exchanges with the Chinese government.
Regarding this legislation we are voting on today, I hope that in 10, 15 or 20 years, we will realize that this has been an important step in increasing economic exchanges. It will also have contributed to a better balance between the various world powers. Based as it is on mutual respect between Canada and China, it will also make further developments possible.
I am sure that, down the road, a sovereign Quebec would also subscribe to the same sort of legislation in order to make it possible for the relationship between Quebec and China to expand in the years to come.
As we know, there have been collaborative efforts in the past, for instance in connection with hydroelectric power. The expertise we possess here in Quebec was of use in the Three Gorges dam project, which will likely be the biggest such project in the world. They are preparing to submerge whole sections of the country. This is a huge challenge, to put all the necessary infrastructure in place and to ensure that it is done under optimum conditions as much as possible.
There are interesting business opportunities. I know that one company from the Quebec City area signed an agreement with the Chinese government for the development of Chinese heritage historic sites, which, unfortunately, will be flooded once the dam is in place. However, there is still an interesting market for a new technology industry with computer potential and Internet based. So it is a project which, in the end, will give results.
I will give another example that shows the importance of this trade. We often hear that such international agreements are far removed from us and have no impact on us. However, to give members an example, the last crisis in Asia had an impact in my riding, in Saint-Alexandre, more particularly in a hog slaughterhouse. We used to sell a lot of pork on the Asian market, but there was a decrease in demand because of the crisis in that region. This created a surplus production that had to be distributed on the North American market. In the end, it had an economic impact on the number of jobs in the village of Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska, in my riding.
Therefore, it is important to realize that these decisions made regarding international agreements are also a way of trying to increase our economic potential. One important challenge will be to ensure that the regions outside large urban centres can benefit from these exchanges.
I know that the Université du Québec à Rimouski, among others, has had this type of exchanges, as well as the Rimouski community in general. Chinese students will soon arrive in Rimouski to study there. This kind of co-operation can also work both ways.
For all these reasons, let us hope that this agreement will lead to increased exchanges. As for us, let us ensure that all the regions of Quebec and Canada can reap the benefits, so that signing this agreement and voting in favour of this bill makes us all winners.