Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to join in this debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a brand new Parliament and the beginning of the mandate of our new government.
In that government I am very grateful to have the opportunity to represent the people of Regina-Wascana. I want to thank them for the trust they vested in me in the election of October 25.
Regina-Wascana includes the southern half of the city of Regina and a rural area running south and east from the city. I am proud to represent Saskatchewan's provincial capital, together with several thousand rural residents. I would note that most of the rural voters now in Regina-Wascana were previously in a Saskatchewan constituency known in earlier Parliaments as Assiniboia which I had the honour to represent in this House in the 1970s. I am pleased that a respected friend and colleague from that earlier Parliament has been chosen by this House as its chief presiding officer. I also want to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, upon your election to this high responsibility.
I want to pay tribute to the two distinguished members who moved and seconded the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne. They are representative of the diversity, strength
and depth of the government caucus, of which I am very pleased to be a part. That caucus has worked hard to get to this House and to get to the government side of this House and I know they are determined to play a strong and positive role. They have already done so in working with me in my responsibilities as Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. They have been vigilant, mature and highly effective in advancing the interests and concerns of their constituents on agricultural issues.
As Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, I am responsible for a very important component of Canada's economy and a major source of economic growth. This sector employs more than 1.8 million Canadians and generates 8 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product. Food production and processing are important activities in all parts of Canada, east, west and central, rural and urban. Our agri-food policy was spelled out very clearly in the famous red book during the election campaign.
The two broad thrusts of that policy are to provide the agricultural sector with stability and certainty for the future and to ensure that it contributes to economic growth and jobs. We ran on that platform, we were elected on that platform and we plan to implement that platform. We will work hard with industry and with the provinces to ensure that the job gets done.
A secure agricultural sector means safe, reasonably priced food for Canadians, financial stability for farmers and others in the sector, stewardship of our resource base, and a predictable trade environment.
Economic growth requires that we take advantage of export opportunities, that we promote innovation, that we support market development and reform policies that might tend to impede growth.
In that overall process international trade must be central to any attempt to rebuild the Canadian economy and to broaden our opportunities in agriculture and agri-food. One and a half million Canadian workers-that is one in five-depend directly on exports for their livelihoods. Total two-way trade in goods and services accounts for almost half of our GDP. Only Germany among the Group of Seven countries is more dependent on trade than is Canada.
Given those facts, reaching a new GATT agreement was essential for Canada's future. It is one step on the road to achieving the goals of job creation and economic development.
This government came into the GATT negotiating process as the clock was very close to nearing midnight. There were barely six weeks between the time the cabinet was sworn into office and the GATT deadline date on December 15. But once at the table in Geneva we battled hard to reach the best possible agreement for Canada. My colleague, the Minister for International Trade, and I made a number of visits to Geneva and Brussels to deliver Canada's message personally to trade negotiators and ministers from other countries. We fought hard and I believe we have a good agreement.
It is true that we did not get everything we wanted in the bargaining process, but we gained much more than we may have given up.
Although much of the focus in this round of the GATT has been on agriculture per se, the agreement over all will benefit all Canadians. It should stimulate the world economy and help create badly needed jobs in our country. The OECD has estimated that the agreement will give the Canadian economy an $8 billion boost by the year 2002. It is in my opinion a good deal for Canada.
Agriculture, of course, was a major part of this Uruguay round at the GATT. For the first time in the history of GATT we now have an agreement that brings agriculture under effective trading rules. The agreement will reduce the risk of damaging trade actions because rules will apply equally to all countries and countries' specific exemptions will be eliminated. A framework of rules will help to prevent the misuse of things like sanitary and phytosanitary measures as disguised trade barriers.
A strong new international body, the World Trade Organization, will help to resolve trade disputes. Canadian farmers and processors will be less subject to unfair competition resulting from foreign export subsidies. Improved market access in Japan, Korea, Europe and the newly industrialized countries will bring exciting new trade opportunities for Canadian exporters. While the timing of export subsidy cuts is certainly slower in the GATT than we would have wanted, the cuts that were in fact achieved will result in significant subsidy reductions by the end of the six-year period of this new GATT. That should help to stabilize and improve prices in the grains and oilseeds sector of our economy.
While in the bargaining process we found virtually no support in other countries for our strengthened and clarified article XI, our preferred method for safeguarding supply management, we are confident that our supply management systems in Canada can continue to do well under the new concept of comprehensive tariffications.
The livestock and red meat sector will be winners under the GATT because of greater security of access to markets. Replacing import restrictions, import levies and other trade distorting measures with tariffs will result in additional export opportunities for beef and pork products to Europe, Japan and Korea and over time this will create a more equitable trading environment for Canadian exporters.
The new trade regime, while by no means perfect, should provide the stability and the predictability that we need to plan and invest for the future. We must now work together as Canadians to ensure that we reap the maximum benefits for all sectors of the agri-food industry in all parts of this country.
We have 18 months to prepare ourselves for the implementation of the GATT. If we do our homework well in that period there are abundant opportunities for us to capitalize upon and the future for agriculture and agri-food can be and I believe will be bright indeed.
To deal with the special needs of the supply managed sectors of agriculture I have asked my parliamentary secretary to head a small consultative task force involving producers and processors and government officials on the broad question of supply management renewal. This process has been endorsed by all of my provincial colleagues across the country. The purpose of the task force is to identify for governments all of the issues that we will have to address and to recommend processes by which those issues can be addressed in this 18-month period before the GATT comes into effect because we all as governments, federal and provincial, want to be fully ready for July 1995.
Changes in the world economy will profoundly affect the way that we trade. We are witnessing the increasing globalization of markets. It is no longer unusual to see fresh produce from New Zealand or southeast Asia in our local grocery stores. In addition, commodity prices are experiencing a long-term decline in real terms.
Canada can no longer depend on primary product exports to the extent we have in the past for improvements in our standard of living. We will have to rely more and more on value added exports to new and changing markets.
I think there is tremendous potential in value added. Three-quarters of all agri-food jobs are found beyond the farm gates. My Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food is now positioned and ready to help farmers and businesses take advantage of the kinds of opportunities that new markets represent.
The department has a new branch, Market and Industry Services, with offices right across this country in all provinces specifically designated to work with the industry on enhancing its global competitiveness and increasing its share of domestic and international markets.
The federal government also has 50 full-time employees working on agri-food trade development in more than 150 foreign markets. The team includes 13 specialists dedicated to agricultural issues in priority export markets including Japan and Taiwan. Their job is to help improve market access and provide up-to-date market information and intelligence to Canadian exporters. Agri-food specialists in other key international locations may well be appointed in the future.
One of the Prime Minister's first major initiatives after taking office was to travel to Seattle to meet leaders of the 17 nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group. These APEC countries represent the most dynamic and fastest growing economic region in the world.
While western industrialized economies have stagnated in recent years, annual growth among APEC countries has been between 6 per cent and 9 per cent and they account for 40 per cent of world trade. World Bank figures indicate that half the increase in the world's wealth between now and the year 2000, as well as half the increase in world trade, will come from Asian countries. There are huge opportunities for Canada in this burgeoning market, particularly in products like pork and other value added products.
Speaking to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture last November, Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute described the Asian marketplace as the greatest opportunity in farming history. As Asian countries become more affluent their demand for high protein products will rise. It is a demand that they may be hard pressed to meet and that is where we come in. Canada has a well earned reputation for producing the highest quality food products in the world, and it is a reputation we can capitalize on to penetrate new markets.
Next to Asia, Latin America is the fastest growing trading area in the world. For Canadian agri-food exporters it has trailed only the United States as the second fastest growing market for our products. In recognition of the importance of trade and the need to develop these markets for Canadian products, the Prime Minister has appointed two secretaries of state within foreign affairs with responsibility for trade with Asia and Latin America as well as with Africa.
With the GATT and the NAFTA in hand the government has been turning its attention to other outstanding trade issues, in particular our ongoing bilateral disputes with the United States. While in Geneva in December, I had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with my American counterpart, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, the hon. Mike Espy. I met with Mr. Espy again earlier this month in Toronto and we have had a number of conversations by telephone since.
I remain reasonably optimistic that the various areas of disagreement between Canada and the United States at the present time from wheat to peanut butter, to sugar, to some dairy matters can be resolved to the satisfaction of both countries, but we may rest assured that the Canadian government will be vigorous and vigilant in advancing the Canadian interest in respect to these products.
The issue of outstanding wheat and barley rights with respect to the European Community is also a top priority. My officials and I will continue to work with the Europeans, as will representatives of international trade, to seek adequate compensation for our historic GATT rights with respect to high quality wheat and barley in Europe.
Another key priority will be to develop new whole farm safety net programs for the future. In two weeks time I will be meeting with provincial and industry representatives in Winnipeg to start work on the future of safety nets in agriculture in Canada. In my view we need a safety net system that meets the basic needs of all agricultural sectors and does not distort market signals, one that lets farmers make sound decisions based on comparative advantage and not based on government programs. Money is tight. We cannot afford a patchwork of ineffective programs. However I believe we can afford a safety net system that works, and that is what we will all be working toward.
Even as we strive to reduce expenditures I intend to place increased emphasis on agricultural research. Good research is not a frill to be cast aside in tough times. It is fundamental to make Canada a world agricultural and agri-food leader. In our platform, the famous red book, we talked about the importance of research and the need to increase joint venture funding. Since we do not have a lot of money I will be looking for ways within my own department of reallocating priorities so that we can continue to move forward on research despite the necessities of budgetary restraint.
I believe the federal government can play a leading role in innovative research and development, for example in biotechnology which has a very strong reputation in my province and other exciting new areas like ethanol.
However R and D spending cannot just be turned on and off like a tap. Inadequate and inconsistent support for research has already resulted, in my judgment, in some missed opportunities.
We must effectively bring together the drive and dynamism of individuals and entrepreneurship with the brain power and strength of our universities and research labs. If we do that effectively the combination can be very powerful for Canada and very powerful in the field of agriculture.
As I conclude I recall that 90 years ago this week Sir Wilfrid Laurier declared that Canada would fill the 20th century. It has become fashionable to compare today's reality with Sir Wilfrid's sentiment and to say that he was wrong.
However when we consider carefully what Canadians have achieved in this century, a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, a country with a peaceful democratic society, a country that is the envy of people everywhere, maybe Sir Wilfrid was not so far off the mark after all.
Over the next four years we will have the opportunity to show that the 20th century did indeed belong to Canada. We will have the opportunity to make history, to restore the faith of Canadians in themselves and in their country, and to prepare Canadians for the next century with the same confidence they had at the start of this one.
This government is looking forward to meeting that challenge.