Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to begin debate on second reading of Bill C-102, an act to amend the Customs Act and Customs Tariff.
I will begin by going through the major points the bill touches on. It provides for the enhancement to Canada's duty deferral program, including duty drawback, inward processing and bonding warehousing to improve the competitive position of Canadian industry.
It provides for tariff reductions on a wide range of manufacturing inputs and certain other goods requested by Canadian manufacturers to improve competitiveness.
It provides for increases in travellers' exemptions on what is called basket tariff items to facilitate the processing of travellers.
It provides for amendments to the Access to Information Act to ensure confidential business information provided to Revenue Canada and finance is protected from disclosure to third parties.
The conversion of the Canadian retailers duty remission order 1993 is changed for statutory provisions to improve the transparency of these tariff relief provisions.
Certain regulatory tariff reductions will be introduced directly into the customs tariff to improve the transparency of these tariff relief provisions.
It provides for seasonal and non-seasonal tariff provisions for dry shallots to ensure they are duty free when unavailable from Canadian growers.
There are amendments to allow for possible future improvements to preferential tariff treatments for the world's poorest developing countries to improve their export opportunities.
It provides for the withdrawal of the duty free British preferential tariff rate on certain rubber footwear to protect Canadian production and jobs.
It provides for a clarification of various provisions in current customs and tariff legislation.
It provides a number of other technical and housekeeping changes to the customs tariff.
A number of these provisions, including the tariff reductions, increases in travellers' exemption and withdrawal of the BPT, the British preferential tariff on rubber footwear, came into effect on the tabling of the notice of ways and means motion by the Minister of Finance on June 13, 1995. The remaining provisions, including the duty deferral amendments, are to come into force by order in council after royal assent.
This bill contributes largely to the good government theme that we have provided to Canadians since the election two years ago. A number of the measures provided for in Bill C-102 build on the government's review of Canada's tariff regime announced in the 1994 budget and are designed to ensure Canada remains a favourable location for producing goods and for investment and also that Canadian businesses, including small businesses, are placed in a better position to profit from Canada's free trade agreements.
Certain amendments, for example the enhancements to duty deferral programs and tariff reductions on manufacturing inputs, are designed to lower business' input costs and maintain and enhance the competitiveness of Canadian businesses in Canadian and world markets.
Bill C-102 also provides for a number of technical changes to simplify and clarify and modernize the customs tariff and its administration and make it easier and less costly for business to access tariff relief programs. The amendments to facilitate the processing of travellers at the border will allow Revenue Canada, through its customs section, to focus on other important border issues such as the smuggling and processing of growing commercial imports.
Several of the amendments in Bill C-102 result from broad consultations with the private sector and are at its request to respond to competitiveness problems faced by Canadian businesses.
The bill seeks to implement three major tariff amendments that will deliver significant long term benefits to Canadian businesses and individuals.
I will outline these. The first two will improve the competitive position of Canadian industry by lowering input costs, thereby creating employment opportunities for Canadians and lowering prices for consumers. The two amendments to which I am referring are the enhancement to Canada's duty deferral programs and the reduction of tariffs on a wide range of manufacturing imports.
A third amendment, increasing travellers' exemptions, will facilitate the processing of travellers. In addition to benefiting consumers this will help our customs officers focus on real priorities by processing our growing commercial imports and combating the crime of smuggling. The legislation also contains a number of technical changes that will help modernize the customs tariff and its administration.
We believe the proposed changes will affect billions of dollars worth of trade. Their impact then will be both beneficial and significant in scope.
Because of the significance of these changes the government has consulted on them, responding directly to problems Canadians, whether in their businesses or as individuals, have identified. We can say therefore with confidence the measures I am about to describe will be welcomed by the great majority of Canadians affected by them. I urge my hon. colleagues to bear this in mind when they are asked to give their support to the bill.
Let me outline each of the three major amendments. I will first talk about the enhancements to Canada's duty deferral programs. I know duty deferral is not the stuff of everyday conversation and so I will take a moment to provide some background.
Duty deferral programs defer or relieve certain customs duties and taxes on imported goods which are re-exported. Canada presently has three duty deferral programs, duty drawback, inward processing and bonded warehousing. Over the years Canadian business has asked for improvements to these programs to make them more competitive with similar programs of our major trading partners.
The changes contained in the bill before us respond to that need. They will enhance, streamline and consolidate these three programs. They will provide as much up front relief as possible to ease cash flow pressures and to reduce input costs on Canada's exports.
The proposed changes will also make the program more easily accessible for small and medium size businesses by reducing the administrative restrictions currently in place. Other changes will enable regions to market Canada's duty deferral programs more effectively in competition with free trade zones around the world. This will help attract and keep investment in Canada. The changes I have described enjoy broad industry and regional support.
Mr. Speaker, for other members of Parliament in your area of St. Catharines there will be a great deal of improvements through the changes in these programs. The government is very proud of its ability to help out areas such as the Niagara Peninsula in dealing with the American market. In Winnipeg there are many proposals being brought forward as a result of the changes we are proposing.
It is a key priority of the government to ensure Canadian business has every opportunity to compete fairly and effectively and profit fully from Canada's expanding access to international markets.
Related to the enhancement of duty deferral is a change to the Access to Information Act. This change will protect the confidentiality of taxpayer information provided by the importing community under the Customs Act, Customs Tariff and the Special Import Measures Act.
Let me turn now to the second major amendment to Bill C-102, the reduction in tariffs on a wide range of manufacturing inputs. This amendment is also directed toward the relief of duties on Canadian manufacturing inputs so that our producers compete more effectively. This amendment will enhance the competitiveness of Canadian producers both internationally and within Canada.
In essence we will be removing a competitive disadvantage that currently burdens Canadian manufacturers vis-à-vis with their American counterparts. We will do this by reducing tariffs on some 1,500 imported manufacturing inputs dutiable at rates higher than those of the United States. I remind my hon. colleagues this measure was announced in the 1994 budget. It is being implemented now following extensive consultations. The measure enjoys strong industry support.
To appreciate the significance of this measure hon. members should be aware that one third of Canada's imports are manufacturing imports. Since American tariff rates are on average about 3.2 percentage points below ours, 5.4 per cent versus 8.5 per cent, U.S. producers enjoy a significant advantage.
Right now this discrepancy negatively affects Canadian manufacturers, principally in the domestic markets. That is because exporters are entitled to receive reimbursement of their input duties through what is commonly known as duty drawback or inward processing.
However, as of January 1, 1996 under the NAFTA drawback will be subject to certain restrictions. Therefore to ensure Canadian exporters enjoy the full benefit of Canada's free trade agreement we must bring our most favoured nation status tariffs on input in line with those of the United States. The 1,500 inputs covered by this amendment account for over $2.5 billion in trade.
The third amendment is the increase of duty exemptions for Canadians travelling abroad. Traveller exemptions are adjusted periodically. However, our exemptions have not been increased since 1983. As a result they are currently out of line with the exemptions provided for by our major trading partners. Our current limits are $20 after a 24 hour absence, $100 after 48 hours and $300 after seven days, but only once a year.
U.S. limits in a striking contrast are $400 once a month with a general exemption of $200. Residents of the European Union can bring in about $300 Canadian in dutiable goods after any absence.
The status quo is hard on consumers and customs officials alike. It also runs counter to Canada's and the United States' commitment under the accord of our shared border to permit travellers and goods to move easily across the Canada-U.S. border. For these reasons the bill will raise the levels of exemptions to as follows: to $50 from $20 after a 24 hour absence; to $200 from $100 after 48 hours and to $500 from $300 after seven days, with the once a year limit being dropped. Naturally Canadian travellers will welcome this change. It also benefits customs administration because it will ease border congestion.
As I said earlier, this will enable Canadian customs authorities to concentrate more effectively on real priorities like cracking down on smugglers and processing commercial imports. These have increased by 43 per cent since 1992.
I am aware some of my hon. colleagues may be concerned about the possible impact on retailers in border areas. I too care about
these retailers but I am convinced this legislation will not have a negative impact on their operations.
In short, this should be regarded as a simple updating measure with minimal economic or revenue loss and a potentially positive impact on trade, business and tourism. It is already operating without disruption.
In addition to the three principle amendments, the bill contains a number of other changes of a largely technical or housekeeping nature. Most will serve to clarify the intent of existing custom and tariff provisions.
Also included in the legislation is a measure that will, like the increase in traveller exemptions, work to streamline Canada's customs clearance procedures under what is known as a basket tariff item basis.
Under this travellers measure the government is proposing to replace the thousands of existing categories of goods with as few as 12 categories. This will speed up collection of duties from travellers at the border by more than 50 per cent.
The bill also provides for tariff reductions on certain finished goods. These reductions have been made at the request of Canadian manufacturers on grounds of competitiveness.
There is only one tariff rate increase in the package. The British preferential tariff is being withdraw from certain rubber footwear, thereby restoring the 20 per cent most favoured nation tariff rate.
This change is consistent with the permanent removal last year of a general preferential tariff on rubber footwear from developing countries. It will prevent countries from circumventing the general preferential tariff withdrawal action and thereby jeopardizing production and jobs in the Canadian shoe industry.
Former British preferential trade tariff exports will still have access to the Canadian market. They will simply have to compete on the same basis as other foreign suppliers.
At the same time the bill allows for possible future improvements to preferential tariff treatment for the world's poorest developing nations. I am confident that Canadians support the goal of enabling these countries to improve their export opportunities. Such changes could also result in lower import costs that will benefit Canadian consumers.
Some of my hon. colleagues may ask about the revenue implications of all these changes as I am outlining them today. As I have already said, the decision to increase travellers' exemptions has minimal implications for government revenues. As for the revenue impact and other measures, we are confident that any cost will be more than outweighed by the long term economic benefits of the proposals: improved competitiveness, increased exports and enhanced employment prospects for Canadians.
In short, the legislation is about providing a meaningful, long term boost to the Canadian economy. It will help ensure that Canada maximizes its benefit under the free trade agreement we have entered. It enjoys the support of business and consumers alike.
Last year alone, Canada's merchandise trade surplus with the U.S. was over $28 million, our largest ever. The benefits to Canadians of such a healthy export sector are beyond doubt, and the government is committed to ensuring that they continue and expand. I urge all my hon. colleagues to join me in sustaining that commitment by supporting the legislation.