Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to Bill S-22, the preclearance bill.
I would like to state upfront that my only reservation is the fact that it was introduced in the Senate. Many of my colleagues have raised the same point. I do not think this bill has the same credibility, having been introduced by a body which is not elected and therefore not accountable to the Canadian people.
Many in this House would have liked the opportunity to speak to or speak longer to this bill. We are down to the wire with the closing of parliament and we have approximately one hour of debate at third reading, which makes it a bit difficult and also leads to some misunderstanding.
As the trade critic for the Reform Party, the official opposition, I think it is very important that this bill be passed as quickly as possible. The reason I say that is because of our tremendous trade relationship with the United States, our biggest trading partner. Over 83% of our exports go to the United States. Therefore, a lot of Canadian companies and Canadian business people are involved and they need increased ease of access.
The amount of trade export and imports between the United States and Canada is massive. We have the biggest trade relationship in the world. There is $1.5 billion a day in trade crossing our border. It works well in most instances, but we have to continue to work to make it easier to do business across that important border.
I returned about three weeks ago from meetings with U.S. senators in the western states. There was a meeting in Great Falls, Montana. I saw the problems facing the border states and the border provinces. I saw sweet grass in Montana cross the line from Alberta. I saw thousands of Canadian trucks moving cattle into the western United States.
Commerce is going to do nothing but increase. We have a number of integrated economies. We see it continuing to develop. These economies include steel, the automotive sector and the cattle industry, and there are going to be more and more integrated economies with the United States in the future.
We are in the process of trying to negotiate a hemispheric free trade agreement, free trade for the Americas, which will bring South America, Central America and North America into one trade agreement. Therefore, there is all the more need for arrangements which make it easier for our business people to cross those borders in a timely fashion. Time means money and these people have to have ease of access. That is what this is really about.
This is a preclearance bill. Preclearance means that we do not have to clear customs in the United States. It can be done in Canada prior to boarding a flight to the United States, for example.
As my colleague said, as well as making it easier, it will build economies at some Canadian airports. Vancouver is a good case in point, where travellers coming from Asia will probably use the Vancouver airport to access the United States. We want to encourage that. We do not want to put roadblocks in the way. Hence, the need to have this preclearance bill.
I want to talk for a moment about the trends in trade. In the 1960s Canada exported approximately 60% of its goods to the United States. People were concerned about that. I remember at the time trade minister Allan MacEachen and Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson wanting to diversify that trade into other areas, Europe for example. However, that was not to be because Europe was looking inward to the European Union. We know the kind of arrangements they have there. They have a customs union, which means that the trucks do not even stop at the borders in the European Union. Commerce flows across those borders every day.
I am not sure if that will ever happen between Canada and the United States, but we know that the trend is that more business people will be travelling and there will be closer linkages.
There is an excellent article today in the Globe and Mail by Heather Scoffield which suggests that integration is speeding up more and more and there are calls for tax harmonization and a common currency. We hear that right in this House.
The trend after the free trade agreement with the United States, and following that the NAFTA, is that more Canadian companies are looking for markets outside Canada. They see that a 30 million person market is not good enough to serve them in the future. They look at the big market south of the border and they want a piece of it.
In fact, because of the free trade agreement and the NAFTA with Canada, Mexico and the United States barriers have come down. That means that tariffs and duties have come down. Between Canada and the United States all duties are gone except for a couple of selective industries. Small Canadian companies which were doing business in Canada only had a protected market here because of high tariff walls. They no longer have those high tariff walls. There are companies from Mexico and United States that are looking at Canada as an attractive place to do business. There is fairly heavy competition for these Canadian companies right in their home market. Therefore, they have to look elsewhere for markets and they are looking into the United States and Mexico where duties have also disappeared.
I am suggesting that the trend will be to more movement of business between our three countries. As we expand free trade into the Americas, into the hemisphere, there will be more need to accelerate programs that can ease the way we do business in Canada and how we clear customs in this preclearance fashion so that goods are moved quickly.
I was at a conference in Mexico last year, five years after the NAFTA. There were legislators there from Canada, the United States and Mexico. I think all of us agreed that we will have to move quickly to try to remove any impediments that we can to the movement of goods and services, and people.
The air cargo industry made excellent points. The way business was conducted some time ago in Canada was that small companies would build a product which they would sell in their home community, and that was it. Things have changed. Those companies started looking at bigger markets, the province and the country. Now, with barriers gone, those small companies are building products and are sending them to destinations all over the world, and they want it done in a timely manner. Hence, the growth in air cargo. Products are being shipped by plane.
Companies want legislation such as Bill C-54, the electronic commerce bill. I would suggest to the government that it is important to have that bill passed quickly. There are a lot of Canadian companies that are asking for that electronic commerce bill to be passed because it will speed up how they can get paid for their products. That is what this is all about.
Bill S-22, although I disagree with its origins, is a good bill. It needs to have speedy passage and our party will support it.