Thank you very much, Chair and committee members.
Let me apologize for being late. I'm quite happy to extend the meeting by whatever time that I was late. Obviously, the health and safety of our members is paramount, and I certainly wanted to make sure we could all be here this morning.
I also want to thank the committee. Yesterday I had the chance to again read the report that was produced on the trans-Pacific partnership from the year of work that you all did across Canada. I refreshed my memory yesterday by reading it again. I want to say thank you, because you spent a good part of the year criss-crossing the country, hearing from Canadians on the issue. Thank you.
If you'll allow me, Chair, I'll do brief remarks, as is customary, and then obviously engage with members on topics.
Thank you for for giving me the opportunity to update the committee on the trade initiatives undertaken by our government in Asia—including the new Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CPTPP—and on our exploratory talks with China to establish a potential agreement. Lately, I had an opportunity to discuss those same issues with the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
The increase in trade between Canada and large fast-growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region is a priority for the Government of Canada. So I'm happy to be able to discuss with you the government's progress in that area.
Allow me first to introduce the department representatives joining me today. These people have made a significant contribution to our recent achievements.
First, we have Tim Sargent, Deputy Minister of International Trade. We also have Bruce Christie, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of Trade, Policy and Negotiations and Lead Negotiator of the CPTPP, as well as Kendal Hembroff, Director of the Trade Policy and Negotiations Division for Asia and Assistant Lead Negotiator of the CPTPP.
Canada is looking to conclude trade agreements that promote the interests of the middle class and create opportunities for exporters and well-paid jobs for the country. That is our main priority, and we will work on negotiating in the best interest of all Canadians.
For a trading nation like Canada, raising the standards of living for our middle class depends on robust international trade. That means support for rules-based order and the institutions that underpin it, as well as more high-quality trade and investment agreements between Canada and its partners around the world.
Canada has shown that it is ready to stand up for Canadians and defend our interests in order to get the best deal for Canada, because these deals have a lasting impact on our nation. Moreover, a progressive trade agenda opens more doors, raises standards, and positions the middle class for success.
We are the most diverse and open country on earth. A progressive trade agenda reflects not only our economic values but our social values as well. When global investors look to position their future investments and capital, they want stability and predictability. I'll put it to you, members, that's Canada. When the talent pool of tomorrow's economy seeks a place to build their business, they want diversity, openness, and all the creativity that comes from a society that embraces and encourages both. That's Canada.
The progressive trade agenda is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do economically. Trade is a march to the top, not a race to the bottom. Canada is leading that charge, and while that takes more effort, it will pay economic dividends for the middle class for decades to come.
That is why, in September 2016, Canada and China announced the launch of exploratory talks to strike a potential agreement. So far, the two countries have held four series of talks. Canada and China continue to engage in dialogue in order to assess the scope of a potential comprehensive trade agreement.
In conjunction with exploratory talks, the Government of Canada held public consultations, between March and June 2017, on potentially concluding an agreement with China. More than 600 stakeholders and partners expressed their views. As a general rule, Canadians said they felt that an agreement presented both benefits and challenges.
Businesses mostly feel that an agreement could provide an opportunity to improve access to the Chinese market, and they have identified certain challenges they would like to address in the process, including non-tariff barriers in areas such as intellectual property. Some civil society groups, unions and Canadian individuals pointed out the importance of addressing challenges such as labour and the environment in the talks with China.
In line with our government's commitment to transparency, a public report summarizing the point of view expressed during the public consultations was released, in November 2017. That is a first for Canada's trade consultations.
During Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to China last December, Canada and China committed to continuing exploratory talks to ensure potential negotiations are based on a shared understanding of the issues to be negotiated as well as the scope and level of ambition of those negotiations.
Canada is committed to taking the time required to make sure any future decision on whether to launch free trade negotiations with China is in the best interest of all Canadians. Should we pursue economic engagement with China, we will do so by creating more opportunities for the middle class. Progressive trade means that trade benefits all Canadians, puts people first, and reflects our standards and, very importantly, our values. We remain committed to building a stronger and more comprehensive relationship between Canada and China, based on a regular and frank dialogue, but we will take the time needed to ensure we get this right.
I wish to talk to you about the recently concluded comprehensive and progressive agreement for the trans-Pacific partnership, otherwise known as the CPTPP.
On January 23, Canada and 10 other countries concluded negotiations for a new agreement in Tokyo, Japan. Asia-Pacific is an important region and a priority market for Canada, and Canada is pleased to be part of the CPTPP, a trading bloc that represents 495 million people, with a combined GDP of almost $14 trillion. Canada has been intensely engaged in the new CPTPP from the first meetings of officials in May 2017 and has proposed suspensions and changes to secure better terms for Canadians. Our position on the CPTPP has been underpinned by extensive consultations with Canadians.
The Government of Canada conducted two sets of comprehensive public consultations with Canadians to seek their views on the original TPP consultation, initiated in November 2015, and a potential new agreement among the remaining TPP members without the United States of America. Collectively, since November 2015, the government has held approximately 250 interactions with over 650 stakeholders, including business and non-business associations, civil society organizations, think tanks, academics, indigenous groups, youth, and the general public.
The CPTPP incorporates, by reference, the provisions of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and will suspend 22 provisions once it goes into force. The suspensions cover a range of areas, including important provisions on intellectual property that were a source of concern for Canadian stakeholders.
Canada was also able to maintain its ability to adopt cultural policies, especially in the digital world, and has concluded important bilateral arrangements in the automotive sector with Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
In addition, the CPTPP contributes to Canada's progressive trade program in a number of areas, including labour, the environment, small and medium-sized businesses, transparency and anti-corruption.
That agreement is Canada's first free trade agreement that includes binding chapters on labour and the environment.
The CPTPP also contains a development chapter wherein the parties affirm their commitment to promoting and strengthening a trade environment that seeks to improve welfare, reduce poverty, and raise living standards, as well as focusing on women and economic growth, highlighting the importance of women being able to fully access the benefits and opportunities created by this agreement.
Once the CPTPP enters into force, it will become one of the largest free trade agreements in the world. In the area of goods, market access gains under the CPTPP will be significant, especially in CPTPP countries where Canada does not currently have free trade agreements and where tariffs remain high.
Gains from the CPTPP will benefit a wide range of sectors across all provinces in Canada, including financial services, fish and seafood, forestry, agriculture and agrifood, and metals and minerals. Our exporters and investors will benefit from more transparent and predictable market access, and potential gains from the CPTPP will increase as new countries seek to join the agreement.
This agreement will benefit Canada not only economically and commercially but also strategically, by allowing Canada to diversify our trade and by providing a platform to influence future trade rules in the very important Asia-Pacific region.
Mr. Chair, I'll now be happy to take questions from committee members.