Okay, that's good.
I was saying that the signing of free trade agreements definitely has a positive effect on businesses in the signatory countries.
These free trade agreements create a very clear financial interest for businesses. However, many barriers constrain SMEs' ability to take advantage of the government support and to benefit from these free trade agreements. It is important to be aware of these constraints so we can better support SMEs.
Although the number of free trade agreements has increased, we see that they occasionally cover markets that are not a priority or that are not well known by small and medium-sized businesses. Therefore, it is important to create a greater awareness of the countries with which we sign agreements and the business opportunities they provide.
The usual reflex of a small or medium-sized business that is beginning to export is to look to more familiar markets that are less risky and more geographically or culturally aligned. More mature SMEs that are already exporters will consider exporting to less familiar destinations outside the United States, France or England. We have to bear that in mind.
If we look at it from the SMEs' perspective, we realize that exporting is not necessarily a priority. We try to explain why it is important to export. However, sometimes the potential for growth in Canada has not been reached and the businesses feel the need to further work on the Canadian and even U.S. markets. We must be able to enhance the potential and further promote it on the Canadian scene.
The issues related to the recruitment of labour also lead to significant constraints at times. Increasingly, a number of businesses and SMEs are not operating at full capacity because there is a labour shortage. They sometimes curtail operations. In this context, it may seem impossible to open new markets abroad just because the business cannot consider increasing production. This could continue for some time unless we change our immigration rules and let in more immigrants who could be hired by our businesses.
There is also the factor of internal abilities and skills, which could quickly become an issue for SMEs, particularly when it comes to language.
Another issue is technical, tax and regulatory knowledge and knowledge of programs that the company could access for help. From our perspective, there is a lack of clarity regarding the different roles of such federal entities as Canada Economic Development, the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada. It is sometimes not very easy for businesses to know who does what. This needs to be clarified for businesses.
To summarize, signing free trade agreements is a very important step that will encourage our businesses to export. However, other measures must be implemented to develop the true potential for our SMEs abroad. This means relying on more organizations such as ours, which are in direct contact with businesses every day. The Canadian government must have a greater presence in the area in order to be in contact with businesses. It must also develop information tools that can be used with businesses. Finally, the government must be available to share information and promote its programs to businesses.
We would be happy to answer any questions.