Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that my colleague opposite is in complete agreement with the initiative put forward by the Minister for International Trade. It shows great foresight.
I do not mean any disrespect by this, but the hon. member, who sits on the international trade committee, has for the last three years applauded all moves which liberalized trade and that increased Canadian business opportunities abroad. Generally speaking, he has been very supportive of the kinds of initiatives that the bill presents. He is unlike many of his Reform colleagues in that regard. We have actually seen eye to eye.
I want to stress some aspects of the bilateral relationships between Canada and Israel and remind members here in the House of the speech the minister made last night.
For some time now, Canada and Israel have had an excellent relationship based on shared values and strong bilateral and social ties. Given the current critical situation, we are supporting the efforts made by Israel and its neighbours to achieve a legitimate, global and durable peace in the Middle East.
While Canada was negotiating NAFTA with the United States and Mexico, Israel was increasing its commercial ties by signing free trade agreements with the United States and, more recently, with the European Union, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
While that may have been a great idea for the Israelis, for the Europeans, for the Americans, it put us and our businesses at a slight disadvantage.
Trade between Canada and Israel was, however, stagnating. In November 1994, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, decided to do something about it. The leaders announced the beginning of negotiations that would hopefully lead to a free trade agreement between their two countries.
Last January, Canada and Israel reached a tentative agreement that both governments kept trying to improve upon.
While it would be my intention to applaud not only the foresight of the Prime Minister in this case and the diligent work of the Minister for International Trade, I would be greatly remiss if I did not acknowledge the focus of the individuals involved in the genesis of this idea, the generation of energy that led to its fruition, if I did not also underline the democratic process that led to this deal.
As my colleagues on both sides of the opposition have indicated, this trade deal is one to be lauded, not so much for of its grandeur because it may have some limitations in relation to the kinds of business we do with the United States and other countries, but it is an important and crucial first step. Quite often many of us feel dwarfed by the magnitude of government and by what appears to be the inaccessibility of the decision making process.
If members will allow me a personal reflection, this trade deal was really born out of a desire of entrepreneurs in Canada who saw opportunities emerging in the Middle East, and Israel in particular. They noticed that, notwithstanding all the difficulties that the area was having, because of the enormous influx of immigrants into Israel and because of the initiatives of the Israeli government to reach out and make peace and at the same time establish economic ties with its partners, there was a mini-economic boom.
The Europeans were the first to notice this. Their companies, with the support of their governments, were able to develop a niche market that had started initially with the growth of tourism. It may come as a surprise to most members, but the tourism industry and related industries are at their most potent right in the Middle East, most particularly in and around Israel.
That boom in the tourism industry allowed for enormous demand, much more than the area could supply for such things as furniture, for example, or textiles and clothing but also in the petrochemical and chemical industries.
Our entrepreneurs in the Toronto-Montreal area found that, notwithstanding the competitiveness of their product and the quality of their materials they could not compete with the Europeans or the Americans because of the free trade agreements they had struck with Israel. They asked the then leader of our party, now the current Prime Minister of Canada, if he could address this at a public meeting. The soon to be Prime Minister was asked if he would address this vacuum in Canadian international trade policy. Notwithstanding the dangers that address might put the party in, he promised he would do it. This he did immediately on assuming the
mantle of Prime Minister. We have seen the results. After two years of negotiations we finally have a deal.
As well, many of my constituents who were involved in the initial genesis, the push toward getting government foreign policy and international trade policy to respond to the interests of entrepreneurs in Canada, took every opportunity to remind me as their local member and other members from Toronto and Montreal that this treaty needed to be signed. Not only would it benefit Canadians economically, it would give us indirect access to the European Union. I know my colleague from the Reform Party would appreciate that.
It took a while for people to respond because obviously the details of such a deal had to be worked out. It is a credit to the people who were involved in this. I met them last July when the Minister for International Trade signed with his counterpart, Natan Sharansky in Toronto. Obviously there was some assiduous work to ensure that the deal would take place so that the new bilateral relations between Canada and Israel would work to the advantage of both parties.
Statistics were related by the Minister for International Trade yesterday and repeated by my colleagues from the Bloc and the Reform Party this morning. Trade has already picked up in some areas by as much as 37 per cent and in others by 49 per cent over last year. Such is the impact of the discussions of such a deal. We can anticipate that much more will happen as soon as the agreement has been inked. I am hoping that the House will approve this today following the debate.
In a crucial area like the Middle East, the presence of Canada whose reputation for altruism as seen through its peacekeeping efforts everywhere throughout the world would be a welcome addition. It has no interest except as one that would introduce expertise in the areas of the region that need it most. I pointed to petrochemical industries. The minister pointed to the electronic and agri-products industries.
When we speak of Israel we are speaking of relations with a country which is not much larger than Prince Edward Island and half of it is desert. Most people can develop policy by shouting from one city to another, in the same way that we shout at each other in the House. The place is intimate, the proximity of one market to another is such that most of us would not appreciate the impact for economic secrets.
However, the presence of Canada, not only as a peacekeeper but as a nation of entrepreneurs, that is willing and ready to provide not only its products but also its expertise will provide Canada, the Middle East and particularly Israel an opportunity to see how things can and should work.
Both opposition parties have indicated that they recognize the import of Canada's initiative of strongly promoting that such a deal also be made available to the Palestinians in the area. I think it is marvellous that the Israelis saw an opportunity for a lasting peace with a Canadian presence on an economic and political basis.
The bill is one that reflects not only what entrepreneurs wanted because it was generated in part by entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity and seized the chance to apprise their government of it and then follow it through together with the bureaucracies of both countries to ensure that legislation would come forward which would cement the ties both were willing to establish.
We have already seen some of the product of that. We have seen some of the flower of that activity. I look forward to a greater, more blossoming economic activity and political participation on both sides.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you and colleagues for their attention. I thank them in particular for their support.