Mr. Chair, thank you very much.
I thank the committee for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-20, the Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Honduras, and the parallel Agreements on Labour and Environmental Cooperation.
I am currently the director general for trade negotiations at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. From 2010 to 2012, I was Canada's ambassador to Honduras.
I'm joined at the table today by my colleagues Henri-Paul Normandin, who is the director general for the Latin American and Caribbean bureau; Paul Huynh, deputy director for tariffs and goods market access; Vern MacKay, director of investment trade policy; and we also have Pierre Bouchard, director of bilateral and regional labour affairs at Employment and Social Development Canada.
Mr. Chair, members of this committee are well aware that to compete and succeed in international markets in this hemisphere and beyond, Canadian companies need a level playing field with respect to tariffs and market access. The Canada-Honduras free trade agreement achieves that goal. It is a concrete demonstration of the government's commitment to an ambitious pro-trade plan, as well as our strategy for engagement in the Americas.
Of course Honduras is a relatively small trade partner, but there is potential for long-term growth, and several Canadian companies are already active there.
Indeed our bilateral trade is already growing. From 2009 to 2013, Canada's two-way merchandise trade with Honduras grew 59%—from $176 million to $280 million. Just over last year, from 2012 to 2013, Canada's exports grew by almost 17% with imports growing more than 7%. To support Canadian businesses operating in Honduras, Export Development Canada, EDC, has assisted 28 Canadian companies and had a business volume in Honduras of more than $23 million in 2013.
But Canadian companies face some stiff competition in Honduras. Honduras already has free trade agreements in force with eight partners: the United States, the European Union, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Taiwan, Panama, and Colombia. It is also negotiating free trade agreements with Peru and Korea. Each of these agreements gives the businesses from those countries a measurable competitive advantage in Honduras over their Canadian counterparts, including clear price advantages in terms of lower tariff rates. Once our FTA enters into force, Canadian exporters will be able to compete with them head to head.
Today Canadian exports to Honduras face, on average, tariffs of 10.5% for agriculture products and 4.8% for non-agricultural goods. If Parliament agrees to implement this free trade agreement, it will help Canadian companies take advantage of Honduras' growing economy by immediately eliminating duties on almost 70% of Honduran tariff lines, with most of the remaining tariffs to be phased out over periods of 5 to 15 years.
The range of products that would benefit includes: agricultural and agri-food products, forestry products, plastics, chemical products, vehicles and auto parts, and industrial machinery.
This agreement will have benefits for communities across Canada, and especially with respect to the agriculture and agrifood sector. For example, pork producers from Quebec and Ontario; processed potato product producers from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba; linseed producers in Saskatchewan; and beef producers in Alberta will all benefit from the removal of Honduran tariffs as high as 15% on their products.
With the Honduran approval last fall of Canada's beef and pork inspection systems, Canadian producers and exporters of beef and pork can take advantage of the tariff reductions on day one of the implementation of this free trade agreement.
This agreement will also eliminate tariffs on a wide variety of Canadian industrial goods exports such as chemical products, wood, pulp and paper products, vehicles and auto parts, as well as fish and seafood. The gains in goods market access will benefit companies in diverse sectors right across Canada.
Canada's service sector also stands to benefit. The FTA goes further than Honduras' existing commitments under the World Trade Organization's General Agreement on Trade in Services in sectors of export interest to Canada, including professional services and information and communications technologies. Overall, the FTA will provide secure, predictable, and equitable treatment for Canadian service providers.
Investors will also benefit. The Canada-Honduras free trade agreement includes provisions designed to protect bilateral investment through legally binding obligations, and to ensure that investors will be treated in a non-discriminatory manner. Through the FTA, investors will also have access to transparent, impartial, and binding dispute settlement. The investment provisions of the FTA will support a stable legal framework that protects Canadian investments in Honduras and vice versa, including guaranteeing the transfer of investment capital and protecting investors against expropriation without prompt and adequate compensation. The investment provisions also include an article on corporate social responsibility, which recognizes that both governments expect and encourage their respective companies operating abroad to observe internationally recognized standards of responsible business conduct.
The FTA also contains strong provisions with respect to government procurement. Honduras has numerous infrastructure projects under way, which relate to ports, airports, and the production of energy from renewable sources. These projects aim to improve, among other things, access, quality, and sustainability of infrastructure services for the rural poor. The FTA will expand access for Canadian suppliers to these types of procurement opportunities, reduce the risk of doing business in the region, and create attractive opportunities in areas such as environmental technology, engineering, infrastructure projects, and construction services.
Finally, in keeping with Canada's overall approach on free trade negotiations, Canada has negotiated parallel agreements on labour and environmental cooperation. The agreement on environmental cooperation, like others that Canada has signed, commits both Canada and Honduras to effectively enforce our environmental laws, and to ensure that we do not relax or weaken those laws to encourage trade or investment. Similarly, the agreement on labour cooperation ensures that increased business between our two countries does not come at the expense of labour rights.
Canadian companies that do business abroad rely on fair, transparent, predictable and non-discriminatory trade rules. With the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, we are helping to provide Canadian companies with the rules they need to compete and win abroad, and build a stronger Canadian economy here at home.
Of course, Hondurans will also benefit from this FTA. Canadian companies invested in Honduras, and Canadian importers buying Honduran exports, are already providing jobs and opportunities there. Over time, this FTA will create the conditions for more such opportunities for Hondurans. Committee members are well aware that Honduras is a country facing challenges on all fronts—with respect to poverty, violence, narco-trafficking, and respect for human rights, to name a few.
Honduras needs help, and Canada is responding. Canada is engaged with the government, civil society, and other international donors on the ground in Honduras to address their human rights, security, and development challenges.
The Canadian government's view is that prosperity, security and democratic governance—including full respect for human rights—are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.
The governments of Canada and Honduras agree that increased prosperity through trade and investment, supported by a strong free trade agreement, can contribute to the reduction of poverty and social exclusion in Honduras.
Thank you, we will be pleased to take any questions the committee might have.