Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to move a motion in the House today calling on it to take a stand in the dispute over lumber between the industries in Canada and The United States
The motion reads:
That this House support the government's will in its efforts to restore free trade agreement rules for lumber and inform the United States that it rejects any obstacle to that free trade process.
In bringing forward this motion through me, the Bloc Quebecois is once again acting as the defender of the rights of Quebec. However, in the case of lumber, and in this rare instance, it is clear that the interests of Quebec and of Canada converge, as we face our American partners.
On April 1, at the end of the current agreement, free trade in this sector must be reinstated. Part of the U.S. lumber industry must stop its harassment of the lumber industry in Quebec and Canada.
In Canada, some 130,000 jobs are linked to the lumber industry. In Quebec, the figure is over 30,000. Quebec is the second largest producer of lumber in Canada, with 25.5% of production.
Quebec produces approximately 7 billion board feet annually. The industry injects over $4 billion a year into the Quebec economy.
The lumber industry is found in various regions of Quebec Over 250 Quebec municipalities have sprung up around wood processing. In some of these municipalities, all of the jobs are related to this industry.
My colleagues will have an opportunity today to speak of this industry's importance to the development of jobs and the economy in their riding.
The U.S. market is a major outlet, as 51.4% of Quebec exports go to the United States, while 47.6% of U.S. products are exported to Canada.
The value of Quebec exports to the United States is about $2 billion annually, while the total value of Canadian lumber exports to the United States is $10 to $11 billion annually.
This clearly illustrates how important this industry is and how important it is to revert to a normal free trade situation with the Americans, as provided for in the North American free trade agreement.
Members certainly know that the U.S. industry, or a part of the U.S. lumber industry, has long been complaining about competition from the Canadian industry. The dispute has been going on for almost 20 years. In fact, we have to go back to 1982 to see the first forms of harassment by the U.S. industry.
Every time complaints have been filed, Canadian and Quebec producers have been able to demonstrate that there were no subsidies in Canada and any of the Canadian provinces, and that their trade practices were fully in accordance with the agreements with our American neighbours and with multilateral agreements.
I am convinced that once again the Canadian industry will be able to demonstrate that it is not subsidized, that the logging price is established according to market rules and that there is dumping whatsoever. We should not delude ourselves. The 1996 Canada-U.S.A. softwood lumber agreement had no foundation as far as trade practices are concerned.
Quebec producers paid a countervailing duty of 6.51%, yet they were not subsidized. Quebec exporters who are not subsidized bore the cost of quotas, yet they should have been exempted. All in all, duties of more than 16% were unjustly collected.
I think we realize today that we would be better off appealing to various tribunals than making a deal that needlessly puts Canada and Quebec at a disadvantage, particularly since the World Trade Organization now has rules.
On September 11, for example, Canadian and Quebec lumber producers won another battle, when the World Trade Organization accepted Canada's request to create a select panel to examine the legality of the U.S. position on the countervailing duty issue.
In this House we all know that for the U.S. industry subsidies and the Canadian industry are not the problem. The problem is that the U.S. industry has not invested much to renew its technology and organizational practices, while the Canadian industry generally made major investments. This is the only reason the U.S. industry is less competitive than the Canadian industry.
The consensus in the Canadian industry is that we should simply return to free trade for lumber. The industry expects, and rightly so, that the Canadian government will support it in this regard. The Bloc Quebecois has tried repeatedly to ensure that the federal government is supporting this consensus.
I must say that at times we have felt the Minister for International Trade was being soft. On February 22, during the same question period, the minister spoke twice about a transition toward free trade. I remind the House that this was on February 22. To a question from the Canadian Alliance, the minister replied:
Now the matter is how we will live the transition toward free trade.
On the same day the minister answered the following to a question from the Bloc Quebecois:
—that we will have a smooth transition to free trade.
If there is talk of a transition, I think we can reasonably assume that there will be some transitional measures, something both our party and the industry oppose.
The following day, on February 23, the parliamentary secretary talked about returning to free trade in the long term. The Bloc Quebecois asked a question and this is what he said:
The long range goal of Canada is very clear in softwood lumber. It is to have free trade in softwood lumber with the United States.
When they start talking about transitional measures and about a long range goal, I think there is reason for concern about the firmness of the government's position on returning to pure and simple free trade in softwood lumber.
I believe that the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister in response to a question from the Bloc Quebecois has clarified, definitively I hope, the position of the federal government:
[—]we have a free trade agreement and we want the Americans to comply with it as regards lumber.
I believe it is time now for all members of all parties in the House to speak out, not only in support of the position of the government, the Prime Minister and the industry, but also to let the Americans know that we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the harassment of one part of the lumber industry.
The necessity for MPs to speak out in this House is all the greater since the announcement a few days ago by U.S. Senators and members of the house of representatives of their support for the portion of their lumber industry that is continuing to harass the Canadian industry.
I am therefore calling upon all members of all parties to join forces with the industry by adopting the motion I am introducing this morning.