Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the hon. member opposite that the official opposition asked dozens of questions but the government answered none.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak to the motion which is before the House. I would like to thank my colleagues who have spoken today for their dedication to and hard work on the farm crisis which exists in this country. It is because of their commitment that the farm crisis issue is before the House today. If it was left up to the government this issue would not see the light of day in this place.
We are constantly reminded of the government's supposed commitment to our farmers. Yet, we continue to wait for the government to act in any meaningful way. I listened, as did all members of the House, to the government's Speech from the Throne, advertising to all its agenda going into the new millennium. There was a very brief mention of the upcoming WTO negotiations and the importance of those negotiations to the future of the agricultural sector in this country.
I listened with great interest to the Minister for International Trade in his reply to the throne speech for any new initiatives from the government that would deal effectively and immediately with the farm crisis that exists in our country. The minister talked a great deal about the need for Canada to open up to the world and that Canada is more open to trade than any other leading industrialized country. The minister talked of a rules based system and how Canada is one of the most active advocates and promoters of a rule based international trading system.
The minister spoke of a system that would guarantee a level playing field which would give Canadian businesses in all sectors easier access to the world market. He said that the humanization of globalization was the government's objective.
The issue of culture, the role of artists in our society and the importance of cultural diversity were all mentioned as priorities of the government by the Minister for International Trade. I waited and waited for the minister to mention where our farmers fit into the future equation of the government. I heard no mention of the crisis on our farms in either the throne speech or the trade minister's reply. I am truly saddened that the minister has chosen to ignore the needs of our farm communities.
It has not taken long for the new Minister for International Trade to tell Canadians what his true priorities are. Just last week the minister proudly announced the government's commitment to a global agreement which would protect Canada's cultural industries. Where is the government's commitment to protect Canada's farmers?
In the official opposition's dissenting report on Canada's position in the upcoming WTO negotiations it urged the government to make agriculture the number one priority and noted that tariff and subsidy reductions are crucial to the future success of our farms. Why is the government not working toward a global agreement to eliminate agricultural subsidies?
We have asked the Prime Minister to use his influence with the U.S.A. to eliminate its destructive agricultural subsidies. The Prime Minister came to the aid of our defence and aerospace industries in a recent trade dispute threatening our favoured nation status in bidding for defence contracts.
I called for prime ministerial intervention on this issue months ago when it looked like the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for International Trade could not get the job done. To his credit the Prime Minister did intervene and he did prevent what could have been a disastrous situation for our defence and aerospace industries.
The plight of our farmers demands that the Prime Minister intervene in the same manner for the elimination of the export enhancement program and similar export subsidization programs that directly impact Canada's ability to compete in global agricultural markets.
We know that the European Union heavily subsidizes its agricultural sector and has been opposed to any talks on liberalizing its aggressive export subsidization policies.
In the long term, if there is ever to be a fair rule in place for agriculture, it can only come from ensuring that agriculture is a priority in the upcoming WTO negotiations.
The government talks about the importance of the Seattle round. However, the government must adopt a clear position on this issue and demand maximum market access for all countries, including major tariff reductions for everyone and significant subsidy reductions by all major players.
Up until now we have not seen the political will necessary from the government to act aggressively in these negotiations. The Minister for International Trade is off to Geneva this week for talks with the European Union on the WTO position. Agriculture must be his first priority in these talks.
The official opposition has called on the government to immediately launch a team Canada mission to Europe; a delegation that would include the Prime Minister, the Minister for International Trade, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food; a team Canada mission dedicated to making a powerful argument to the Europeans that it is in the best interests of Europe that subsidies be removed. We must appeal to them that subsidies go against the very principle of free trade that the European Union seems to espouse.
In the last two weeks alone there have been three decisions that have forced Canada to expand and open its markets. We all know of the auto pact decision. The WTO in effect said that the auto pact discriminated against foreign automakers because only the big three were able to import cars into Canada duty free.
The WTO also ruled that Canada has been unfairly subsidizing its milk products.
In a mixed decision, the U.S.A. department of commerce cleared our beef producers of being unfairly subsidized, yet refused to eliminate tariffs on Canadian cattle.
Other countries are using mechanisms available to them to open our markets to their producers and to protect their industries. Why then is our government not acting in a similar fashion to protect our agricultural industry?
Our government continues to react in a passive manner and refuses to act aggressively in protecting and promoting the interests of Canada in the global marketplace. If the government is committed to free trade, as suggested in both the throne speech and the reply by the Minister for International Trade, that means more than simply knocking down our subsidies and trade barriers here at home. It means aggressively knocking down trade barriers that exist in countries around the world.
Our farmers are calling for the government to develop lasting solutions to the agricultural crisis. The usual do nothing approach advocated by the government is simply not good enough any more. The government cannot continue to be broadsided by decisions like the auto pact. Until this government acts our farmers will continue to operate at a disadvantage
I would like to wrap up my comments today by saying that the government's inability to deal with foreign subsidies is killing our farmers. Why is the government refusing to deal with this issue? It is more concerned with protecting our culture and appeasing the Maude Barlows of this world than it is in fighting for the future of our Canadian farmers.
It is clear that the new international trade minister's priorities lie elsewhere. I question whether the government's position on agriculture going into the WTO negotiations has any real teeth at all.
It is truly disgraceful that the farmers of this country are paying the ultimate price for a government that does not have the stomach or the political will to participate forcefully in today's global market.