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Evidence of meeting #31 for International Trade in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agreements.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Garry Neil  Executive Director, Council of Canadians
Mark Rowlinson  Labour Lawyer, United Steelworkers

April 24th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

My question is for Mr. Neil.

In Jordan, water is an extremely precious commodity. A truckload of water is more valuable than a truckload of oil. That water comes from the water tables. It has been in there for tens of thousands of years. In all of the countries in that region, water is wasted on all sorts of questionable projects, like intensive farming.

Local populations that have small wells and live around the water sources and oases see the water table that feeds their wells diminish every day. The day there is a confrontation between, for instance, Potash Corporation and 200 or 300 Bedouin goat farmers, the only possibility left to the Bedouin will be to sell dried goat meat. That is my concern.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

We'll allow a quick answer. Go ahead.

12:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Council of Canadians

Garry Neil

Oh, I absolutely agree. I think the situation in Jordan with respect to water is very serious. It's becoming more serious. Water is becoming more scarce, and the Jordanian government absolutely needs both to take action and to have scope to take action to protect the water as far as possible for humans.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Okay, thank you very much.

Mr. Easter had a final question. I'll allow a few minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

It's a short one.

In the previous exchange, on the labour side and the environmental side, Mr. Neil, you talked about making the agreement...that those particular sections, if they were improved, would make it better. But how do you gain any ground with making it enforceable? The key in these trade agreements is in enforcing them.

We have a number of cattlemen here, Mr. Chair. You know some of them. We have an agreement with the United States. The most integrated industry in North America at one time was the beef sector. The U.S. brought in country-of-origin labelling. It decimated our beef industry for a while. I forget how many years ago that was now. We won the challenge at the WTO. They've now appealed it, and we're—I don't know how many—four or five years down the road.

The problem is, if there isn't quick enforcement on some of the rules around these trade agreements, the damage is already done. In my province the beef industry is half what it was.

How do you institute in trade agreements enforceability powers that deal with actions by one side or the other that can virtually destroy industries? How do you do it in a quick way to protect the investment on either side that has been made in those industries?

12:20 p.m.

Labour Lawyer, United Steelworkers

Mark Rowlinson

I'll go briefly on that issue.

It seems to me that when you're talking about the enforceability of trade agreements you're always talking some combination of law and some combination of political will. It is not difficult. We write contracts every single day that are quickly enforceable. It shouldn't be difficult in these circumstances to conceive of and draft mechanisms that can be enforced independently, judicially, transparently, and quickly to provide meaningful rights for everyone. In order to do that you need the political will of the signatories themselves, and then you need to actually come up with the mechanisms by which to do it.

Those are my thoughts on that question.

12:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Council of Canadians

Garry Neil

Of course, that's the legal answer. The political answer, as you well know, Mr. Easter, is that the United States, if it chooses not to abide by decisions taken, has the economic clout to do that. The leading example is probably the softwood lumber situation between Canada and the United States, where we won time after time after time, and the Americans simply refused and just bullied ahead in the way that they chose to.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Okay, thank you very much.

We will now move to Mr. Keddy, to finish this round of questioning.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I don't know how we went from there to softwood lumber. It was a quantum leap, and I missed the booster rockets when they kicked in.

12:25 p.m.

Ron Cannon

But we know where the beef is.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

I have one comment and one question. I'll pick up on Mr. Easter's comment with the cattlemen, and I appreciate their being in the room.

There's huge opportunity here for Canadian agriculture. We're signing an agreement with a country that imports 50% of its entire agriculture product. There's not just opportunity for beef, there's opportunity here for every agricultural commodity, and great potential to get into the greater Arab world through a fairly moderate Arab state.

Again, I'll go back to my original statement that there is no perfect world out there, so we have to work with what we have in front of us.

My question is quite simple. We have an agreement negotiated. There really isn't a lot of ability to amend these agreements. We've talked about labour and the environment, the importance of rules-based trading.

Would either the Council of Canadians or the labour unions support this agreement without amendments?

12:25 p.m.

Labour Lawyer, United Steelworkers

12:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Council of Canadians

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

[Inaudible—Editor]

12:25 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Quick question, quick answer: that's not the case all the time, in this committee.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

I'm shocked.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

We want to thank you for coming in. We appreciate the extra time. I know we were allotted one hour and we went an hour and a half. I appreciate that very much.

Thank you to the committee for the questions, and to the new members. I believe we're a very functional committee.

We'll be moving to clause-by-clause on Thursday. I would just remind committee members with regard to this that if they have any amendments, please be prepared for that. Submit them to the clerk.

With that, we'll suspend and go in camera for a quick meeting on future business.

So we'll suspend for now—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Chair, before you suspend, I had a motion.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

Yes, we'll do that in—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Well, I might not agree to doing that in camera.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Merrifield

We are suspended.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Thank you.

[Proceedings continue in camera]