Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to continue speaking to Bill C-41, the Canada-South Korea free trade agreement.
It is my great pleasure and honour to support this bill and this free trade agreement, the crux of which is tariff lines between Canada and South Korea. The NDP believes that this free trade agreement will benefit Canadian industries and that it can produce plenty of positive economic spinoffs for Canadian industries, such as aerospace.
First, I want to point out that Korea is one of Canada's biggest trading partners. It is Canada's seventh-largest trading partner, the third-largest in Asia after China and Japan. In 2003, Canadian exports to South Korea totalled $33.4 billion while Korean exports to Canada totalled $7.3 billion.
The NDP supports a balanced and sensible approach to free trade agreements. We believe it is critical to review each individual agreement to determine its benefits. The NDP believes that Canada must negotiate free trade agreements with trading partners that respect democracy and human rights and have adequate environmental and labour rights standards. That is the case in South Korea.
In addition, the trading partner's economy must be of significant or strategic value to Canada. As I explained in my speech, this free trade agreement with Korea passes that test. We also have to ensure that the terms of the proposed agreement are satisfactory. I know that a number of stakeholders, including most Canadian industrial sectors, have said this is an excellent agreement. That cannot be said of all of the free trade agreements negotiated by the Conservative government over the past few months and years.
The NDP understands the importance of implementing this free trade agreement as of January 1. In fact, Korea already has free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States. Since those countries implemented their free trade agreements with Korea, Canadian exporters have been losing significant market share. What is more, each year, Korean tariffs come down for EU and U.S. exporters as a result of those agreements. This is estimated to cost Canadian producers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. We therefore understand how urgent it is to implement this free trade agreement as soon as possible. The losses have been particularly heavy in the agri-foods, seafood and aerospace sectors. I would like to emphasize the aerospace sector in particular since it is essential to the economic well-being of the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
It is also important to note that there are high rates of unionization in these sectors. We therefore strongly believe that this free trade agreement with Korea will encourage the creation of stable, unionized jobs, which will help Canadians make ends meet.
Canada’s largest private-sector union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, has publicly supported the Korean free trade agreement. This union represents tens of thousands of workers in the food processing, seafood, milling, agricultural and distilling sectors.
I am very proud to be a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, where I have been able to work with our critic for international trade. We worked extremely hard to improve Bill C-41. Although we support the bill and although it will be beneficial to Canada, we believe that it is not perfect and that it can be improved.
The NDP proposed three amendments to the Standing Committee on International Trade, which were defeated not only by the Conservatives, who hold a majority on the committee, but also by the Liberal member who sits on that committee.
One of the amendments that the NDP critic proposed to improve the bill sought to eliminate the investor state dispute settlement mechanism. The NDP believes that this is a rather controversial aspect of the bill because we are talking about a free trade agreement between two democratic countries with solid and stable legal systems.
The Conservative government has a history of negotiating free trade agreements that contain these investor state dispute settlement mechanisms. These free trade agreements are even a cornerstone of this government. However, we do not believe that such a measure is necessary in a free trade agreement with South Korea.
As we have seen in the news in recent weeks, many countries did not agree with this investor state dispute settlement mechanism. Germany, for one, has spoken out against these mechanisms in free trade agreements.
The main opposition party in South Korea also opposes this mechanism, and an NDP government would negotiate with South Korea in order to get rid of it. This mechanism definitely does not have unanimous support in the international community.
The good thing about this free trade agreement is that it is not binding on the governments for 31 years, like the Canada-China investment agreement, or FIPA. Unlike that investment protection agreement, the free trade agreement with South Korea has guaranteed transparency rules for investor state dispute settlement tribunals, and the hearings must be held in public. That is at least one good thing about this bill.
I would like to digress for a moment and talk about intellectual property. I would like to quote an expert in this area who is often quoted in this House, Michael Geist. He also often appears as a witness before parliamentary committees.
I encourage any Canadians who might be interested, including my constituents in Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, to look for and read what he has written on the Canada-South Korea free trade agreement.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to read the text in full, but this illustrates at least that the section on intellectual property has some positive aspects that we can support.
I will quote from what Michael Geist wrote.
The IP chapter is significant for what it does not include. Unlike many other trade deals--particularly those involving the U.S., European Union, and Australia--the Canada-South Korea deal is content to leave domestic intellectual property rules largely untouched. The approach is to reaffirm the importance of intellectual property and ensure that both countries meet their international obligations, but not to use trade agreements as a backdoor mechanism to increase IP protections.
Later in his article he says:
...the Canada--South Korea agreement may provide a model for many other countries that wish to include intellectual property provisions in their trade agreements but are content to require each party to meet international standards rather than the domestic rules of one of the parties. The U.S. and E.U. approach has been to export their rules to other countries, but Canada and South Korea have demonstrated that respect for domestic choices and compliance [to] international obligations is a better alternative.
The free trade agreement between Canada and Korea is interesting in its approach to intellectual property.
Since I have just a minute left, I would like to reiterate that the NDP has a balanced approach to free trade agreements. We will look at the text of the free trade agreement with the European Union and consult Canadians before deciding whether or not we will support it. Nonetheless, the free trade agreement between Canada and Korea is a positive, model agreement. I am proud to support it.
Our approach is not like that of the Conservative government at all. The government wants to negotiate free trade agreements with every country, regardless of their record on respecting human rights and without any concern for the benefits to Canada. We must choose our trade partners carefully, and that is what an NDP government will do.