Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have prepared remarks, but I will attempt to avoid repetition as I go through, so I will go a bit more slowly.
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before the committee today.
My name is Peter Burn. I am one of the seven members of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal. We are supported by a secretariat of approximately 50 professionals: lawyers, economists, financial analysts, registry and editing officials, and the like. One of them is here with me today. Joining me from the CITT secretariat is Mr. Eric Wildhaber. That's Swiss French, not Swiss German, I believe. If you're from the north, it would be pronounced differently. Eric is senior counsel in the administrative tribunals support service of Canada. He is one of Canada's foremost experts in the field of procurement review law.
We are available to answer questions in both languages, but I will ask Eric to be the lead in French, because he is fluently bilingual.
I am pleased to provide the committee with some context for its deliberations on small and indigenous business set-asides.
First, let me describe who we are and describe our mandate. The CITT is an independent, quasi-judicial body with the powers of a superior court, which reports to Parliament through the Minister of Finance. We are mandated to act in five areas.
First, we are mandated to inquire into and decide whether dumped and/or subsidized imports have caused, or are threatening to cause, material injury to a domestic industry. The CITT conducts the injury inquiry, and the CBSA—the Canada Border Services Agency—determines the existence and level of dumping and/or subsidization. Our American counterpart for this mandate is the International Trade Commission, the ITC.
The second concerns safeguard inquiries, which is, again, an ITC function in the States. Here, we inquire to determine if goods are being imported into Canada in such increased quantities and under such conditions as to be a principal cause of serious injury or threat to the domestic producers of like goods.
The third mandate concerns inquiries into economic and tariff matters as referred to us by the GIC or the Minister of Finance.
The fourth involves customs and excise appeals. We hear and decide appeals of decisions of the CBSA made under the Customs Act and SIMA, the Special Import Measures Act, and of the Minister of National Revenue made under the Excise Tax Act. Here, our American counterpart is the Court of International Trade in New York City.
Finally, we come to our fifth mandate, which is why we are here today—our role as the designated reviewing authority for certain federal procurements pursuant to the various trade agreements that were named earlier. For this mandate, our U.S. counterpart is the Government Accountability Office, or GAO.
You'll note I said “certain procurements”. That's because our review power covers only those federal government contracts that qualify as “designated contracts”—that is, contracts above a certain value, issued by a listed entity of the federal government, and involving a listed good or service. In other words, there are many lower-value federal contracts outside of CITT's jurisdiction and beyond the disciplines of trade agreements. The Office of the Procurement Ombudsman has certain responsibilities for those under the CFTA, formerly known as the AIT, the Agreement on Internal Trade.
Beyond our jurisdiction as well are procurements by subnational governments. You will know that the provinces have taken on procurement obligations in both CETA and the CFTA. As a party to CETA, Canada has committed to ensuring that our subnational governments respect their CETA commitments and has agreed to create one or more procurement review authorities. We'll have to see how that develops, whether we have one or 11, or how that goes.
Under CITT's procurement mandate, we receive complaints from companies and individuals dealing with the federal government who feel that they have been improperly or unfairly treated during the course of a procurement process. We receive about 70 procurement complaints annually, and we endeavour to provide a fast, cost-effective, fair, and transparent review. It's a file hearing; nobody has to come to Ottawa. Those are reviewed for both domestic and foreign suppliers, many of whom are small and medium-sized businesses.
When we determine that a complaint is valid, we recommend to the government one of a range of remedies as we consider appropriate, and we can also provide the deputy head with comments and observations on the process. By legislation, recommendations are to be implemented to the greatest extent possible.
On the issue today, small and indigenous businesses, an annex in NAFTA explicitly states that the procurement chapter does not apply to procurements in respect of “set-asides for small and minority businesses”. Those are practices that began in the United States well before NAFTA, the small business set-aside back in the 1950s and the minority program for businesses owned by African Americans and Native Americans in the amended statute in the 1970s.
The Small Business Act in the U.S. states that small businesses should receive a “fair proportion” of federal contracts, and that small businesses and small minority-owned businesses should have the “maximum practicable opportunity”, so there is lots of scope. The small business set-aside provides that opportunity by requiring most contracts with an estimated value of more than $25,000 and less than $150,000 to be awarded to small businesses, with “small” defined in relative terms within each sector. I don't know what a small oil company is.