Madam Speaker, it is certainly an honour to rise in this chamber to speak to the second reading of Bill C-57, the free trade agreement between Canada and Jordan.
I need to preface my speech with some very frank comments. Unfortunately, free trade discussions and free trade agreements have very much been hijacked by the chamber, and I would ask all hon. members in this place to look at the merit of this agreement for what the agreement is. We continue to hear discussions about how there is no such thing as fair trade, how there is no fair trade agreement anywhere in the world, how there has never been one signed, and how they sound good on paper but they do not exist in reality.
We sign comprehensive trading agreements and we sign free trade agreements. I would ask all hon. members to also consider another point, that we are signing these agreements with countries that we are already trading with. This is not brand new. I have listened to a lot of discussion about our free trade agreement with Colombia, and the opposition members talk as if we are not trading with Colombia already, but the reality is that we are and that our industries are working at a competitive disadvantage against other nations in the world that have already signed free trade agreements with Colombia. Nations around the world like Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein have embraced free trade as a methodology for rules-based trading that helps Canadian workers and helps Canadian consumers.
This agreement with Jordan will directly benefit a number of sectors of the Canadian economy at precisely the time when Canadians need competitive access to global markets. In these challenging economic times, we need to do everything we can to help Canadians and Canadian businesses build links to the global economy. Protectionism is not the answer; partnerships are. From the very start of the global economic downturn, the Prime Minister has been very clear that opening doors to trade and investment is the right approach to create opportunities for Canadians in key global markets such as India, which the Prime Minister is visiting right now, and China, where the Prime Minister will travel in a few short weeks, and Jordan.
Over the years, Canada and Jordan have built a strong mutually beneficial relationship. It is a relationship grounded in common aspirations such as peace, stability and prosperity for our citizens. As the Minister of International Trade saw earlier this year, it is a relationship with deep commercial roots as well. Many Canadian companies already have a solid presence in the Jordanian marketplace. The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, for instance, is one of Jordan's top foreign investors. It is joined by companies like Research In Motion, Bombardier, SNC-Lavalin, Four Seasons Hotels, Second Cup coffee shops and many others which are also active in Jordan.
Our two-way trade is very diverse, covering everything from forestry to agriculture, from food to machinery, as well as communications, technologies and apparel. Canada's expertise in nuclear power is another sector of great interest to Jordan, especially as it embarks on a nuclear energy program to meet its energy needs in the years ahead. Canada's nuclear industry has a lot to offer the government and the private sector in Jordan, especially following the signing of our bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement earlier this year. It is yet another example of how sophisticated our relationship is becoming on several fronts.
In 2008, our two-way merchandise trade reached over $90 million. Canada is the supplier to Jordan of a range of goods including paper, copper, vegetables, machinery and wood. In fact Canadian exporters enjoyed a 21% rise in exports over the previous year, making Jordan a growing market in the Middle East for Canada.
At a time of global recession, when export markets are dropping and decreasing around the world, we have seen an increase in our market with Jordan. This growing trade relationship is one reason our businesses are supportive of closer ties with the Jordanian marketplace.
Our leaders see potential as well. In 2007, the Prime Minister joined His Majesty King Abdullah II in a commitment to take our commercial relationship to the next level. Formal FTA negotiations launched in February of 2008 were concluded after three rounds. In June of this year, Canada and Jordan signed not only a free trade agreement but also agreements on labour cooperation and the environment, and a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement.
These are all important components in our evolving commercial relationship, but the free trade agreement is the centrepiece, the one that will benefit Canadians and Jordanians alike. It will give Canadian and Jordanian exporters unprecedented access to our respective markets, eliminating tariffs on a number of key products. World-leading Canadian sectors such as forestry, manufacturing and agriculture and agri-food will benefit.
Our beef producers too stand to benefit from the agreement. Not only did Jordan fully reopen its market to Canadian beef and cattle in February, but through this FTA, Canadian beef producers will enjoy competitive advantages in a market that the Canada Beef Export Federation estimates to be worth approximately $1 million per Canadian exporter.
In addition to providing these great benefits, this agreement also sharpens our competitive edge. After all, Jordan has free trade agreements with some of our key competitors such as the United States and the European Union. This FTA will help ensure a level playing field for Canadians in the Jordanian market. In fact 67% of Jordan's tariff lines, covering over 99% of Canadian exports, will be eliminated when the agreement is first implemented, and the remaining tariff reductions will take place within three to five years.
An FTA with Jordan also demonstrates Canada's support for an Arab state that supports peace and security in the Middle East, but as I have said before, the FTA was just one agreement we signed with Jordan this year. We also signed parallel labour cooperation and environmental agreements that will help ensure progress on labour rights and environmental protection. Our government firmly believes that increased commerce can play a positive role in society, and these agreements prove our commitment.
We also signed a bilateral foreign investment protection and promotion agreement, or FIPA, that establishes clear rules for investment between our countries. It provides Canadian and Jordanian investors alike with the predictability and certainty they need when investing in each other's markets.
Canadian investors are particularly excited about opportunities in Jordan's resource extraction, nuclear energy, telecommunications, transportation and infrastructure sectors, and Jordan has been very receptive to Canada's many investment advantages, such as our sound, stable economy; our globally recognized banking system; our competitive business taxes; our ongoing investments in infrastructure, science and education; our unmatched position in the North American market; and the skills, ingenuity and innovation of the Canadian people.
This agreement will help us promote investment between our nations and create new opportunities for our citizens. Canada believes that our ability to weather the current economic storm depends in great part on the global partnerships we pursue. That is why this Conservative government is moving so aggressively on trade negotiations with our global partners.
On July 1, we celebrated the official entry into force of Canada's first free trade agreement since 2002, with the European Free Trade Association's states of Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. On August 1, we were celebrating again with the entry into force of the Canada-Peru FTA.
The Prime Minister was in Panama City on August 11, along with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, to mark the conclusion of the Canada-Panama free trade negotiations, and of course, the legislation to implement the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement is currently before Parliament.
There is much more to come.
On October 23, Canada and the European Union concluded a successful first round of negotiations towards a comprehensive economic and trade agreement. The Canadian and EU chief negotiators commended the efforts made by both sides to identify common ground and their readiness to reconcile differences.
Free trade talks are also under way with other countries in the Americas, including the Caribbean community.
We have also announced exploratory talks with India, Morocco and Ukraine, three more exciting opportunities to link Canadians to opportunities in these important markets.
The agreements we have signed with Jordan are an important part of these efforts. They speak directly to our government's ongoing commitment to open more doors and create more jobs for Canadians in these tough economic times.
I would ask that all hon. members fully support these efforts and, specifically, the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement and related agreements that I have outlined today.
Just to wrap up, I would ask very clearly and openly for the support of the opposition parties. This is a minority Parliament. There is no way the government alone can pass these bills through the House. These are good bills. They offer tremendous opportunity, not just for Canadian companies, but for Canadian workers and in turn for Canadian consumers. So I would certainly call upon all of the opposition parties, especially the official opposition which has been a free trader in the past, to look at the opportunities here, to assess them and to support them.