Mr. Chair, honourable members, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to speak to you regarding a Canada-Japan bilateral trade agreement.
My name is Bob Kirke. I'm the executive director of the Canadian Apparel Federation. Our association is made up of several hundred firms throughout the apparel industry. Members of our association import and export apparel throughout the world. They make it in Canada and abroad. We also count as our members industry suppliers and vertical retailers.
I recently had the pleasure to appear before the committee on Bill C-23. I'm happy you were able to report to the House regarding the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, and I'm happy to speak to you today about a very different agreement, with a much different trading partner.
Before I address the merits of free trade with Japan, perhaps I could provide a little background on the specific rules of origin that apply to apparel in our bilateral trade agreements. I'd like to outline how we view these rules and mention a few of our industry's international trade priorities.
Before the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, Canadian exports of apparel were minimal. After the FTA we grew as an industry almost exclusively on the basis of exports to the United States. Canadian apparel manufacturers prospered under the Canada-U.S. FTA and NAFTA, and we became far more market oriented within the North American marketplace.
Once import quotas on imports from lower-cost countries were fully removed at the end of 2004, many companies reoriented their production to take advantage of trade liberalization, both for the domestic market and the U.S. In basic terms that meant moving production to other regions of the world, particularly Asia.
We have had and we continue to have good success under NAFTA, but I want to underline for you that the success has come despite the product specific rules of origin, and not because of them. For that reason I would like to mention a few things about the standard apparel rule of origin that Canada has incorporated into many of its bilateral agreements—pretty much everything since NAFTA.
Under the Canada-U.S. FTA, we had a specific rule of origin established for Canadian manufactured garments. To qualify for free trade they had to be manufactured in Canada from fabric produced in ether Canada or the United States. This is what's called a fabric forward rule of origin.
NAFTA, which came into force 18 years ago now, imposed a significantly more stringent rule. Under NAFTA, for apparel to qualify for free trade, the yarn had to be produced in North America, the fabric had to be manufactured within North America, and the garment had to be cut and sown in one of the NAFTA countries. This is a yarn-forward rule of origin.
The challenge created by the rule of origin is that it establishes the unlikely scenario where the origin of a garment, similar to what I'm wearing now, and its tariff treatment are determined by the origin of the yarns woven into the fabrics, which are then designed and cut and sown and made into a garment. Since NAFTA, virtually every free trade agreement Canada has negotiated has been based on these rules of origin.
For the record, the Canadian apparel industry never supported this rule of origin, for apparel in NAFTA or any other agreement. These rules are cumbersome and serve as a barrier to trade. I would be happy to give the committee numerous examples of how this complicates trade.
With respect to Japan, our message to the committee and the government regarding any agreement with Japan is very simple: we support this initiative. The Japanese market is challenging, but it has great potential for all our industry. But free trade with Japan should be undertaken with the most straightforward rule of origin for our products.
The Canadian government has recently implemented agreements with less burdensome rules, for example, the FTA between Canada and the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, which was implemented in 2009. Under the Canada-EFTA accord, there's a simple rule of origin for apparel. To qualify for free trade, apparel need only be cut and sown in the territory of one of the parties to qualify for free trade. There's no restriction on the raw material origin.
These are precisely the type of rules our industry needs when we are trading with another developed country such as Japan. For both Canada and Japan, their mainly domestic production of apparel is focused on niche markets, the higher value-added goods. There is potential to grow this trade between the two countries, but only if we adopt simple rules of origin.
We would also add that we urge the government to proceed on a bilateral basis with Japan, and not wait for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal to be negotiated or for us to be able to join. Those are both up in the air, I would suspect, if for no other reason than that the American government, we believe, is looking essentially for NAFTA rules of origin for apparel under the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This brings us to a few other priorities in international trade, which echo some of our comments about Japan and will also give you a little more background. First, we encourage the government to establish what we call commercially viable bilateral trade agreements. We need to ensure that agreements offer reasonable opportunities for companies both in Canada and our trading partners. Extraordinarily complex rules of origin and other regulations defeat this purpose.
Our second priority is that we should be improving existing agreements. We should be looking to review and improve existing FTAs and other trade arrangements, and in particular to move from a yarn-forward rule of origin, which we have negotiated for the last 18 years, to a fabric forward rule wherever possible.
Our third point is very basic: don't forget the United States. I would never come before this committee without saying that. Even now, our exports to Japan per year are basically equivalent to about three days of exports to the United States. So please remember that the regulatory barriers between Canada and the U.S. remain the most important issue.
I guess the last point I would say is that we are committed, and we hope the government remains committed, to a rules-based trading system. As I mentioned, the Canadian apparel industry shifted a lot of its production from domestic manufacturing to other producing countries. We make it here; we make it in Asia; we buy foreign fabric; we bring it here. It's a very complicated mix. The best expression of this was formulated by Export Development Canada, which calls this process “integrative trade”. The World Trade Organization calls this "made in the world". It's very indicative of our industry.
In reality, Canadian firms design and manage the production of literally billions of dollars in apparel, which is assembled in other countries, such as China, for sale in third markets. For this to operate we need strong multilateral trade rules, and it is in Canada's interest to support such a trading system.
Those are my remarks. I'd be happy to answer any questions the committee has.