Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate today on Bill C-32 which gives considerable detail to expanding free trade. I will set out a preamble to my comments today and say that in general members of my party and I are supportive of free trade. It is in fact our party policy.
We have another adjective we use with respect to trade. Trade should not only be free, that is free from tariffs, countervailing duties and all those things. It should also be fair. That is unfortunately where the Liberal government often fails. It is imperative that we vigorously defend Canadian industries.
The government does not have a good record for doing that with other commodities, including agricultural commodities. The government has often entered into agreements without enough forethought about the implications. As a result it backs itself into a corner and we in the country suffer enormously.
I cannot help but digress to the whole question of western Canadian farmers and the tariffs and controls the government has put on grain marketing over the years. Canadian farmers are not able to market their product at the best price. Instead the government controls it. It is almost an inverse Zellers' law. Zellers says the lowest price is the law. The Government of Canada has told farmers the worst deal for them is the law. That is unfortunate.
The government is making the same error with Bill C-32 in that it is not giving enough thought to the long term effects. There are a few things we ought to be aware of. Bill C-32 would expand free trade with Costa Rica. It outlines a 10 year plan. Some tariffs would be reduced in stages over 10 years and others would come into play rapidly.
It should be noted that we already have a free trade agreement with Chile. There is also NAFTA which is about seven years old. The purpose of these free trade agreements is to give Canadian producers better access to foreign markets and give our trading partners abroad better access to our market.
A problem arises. Canada for some reason has gone ahead of all the other countries in the agreement by being the only country to refuse to substantially subsidize its producers. All the other countries subsidize, in some cases very richly, their producers of agriculture and food products. Canada is way down the list, almost at zero. When it comes to sugar producers, subsidies from the Canadian government are essentially zero. Yet the other countries subsidize them.
How are we to compete? It is impossible. That is common sense. It should not escape Liberal members of the House and the Liberal government.
If there is another country competing with our producers and its producers are being substantially subsidized over and above what Canadian producers are, that puts our guys at a huge disadvantage. It is as if we were to enter a race and we were to say to our athletes that we would like them to carry an extra 50 pounds. I guess I already have mine and that is why they do not enter me into Olympic races, because it is a bit of a disadvantage.
Canadian producers are operating under this disadvantage. They are working against a trade barrier of price because of the fact that producers in other countries like the United States and those in Central America substantially subsidize their producers. As a result, our people have to be very efficient to compete, which they are, but in many cases they lose out on the fight.
We should be aware that 80% of the products that Costa Rica exports to Canada, and we are talking about fruits and vegetables, coffee and coal, already at this stage enter Canada duty free. Therefore the market in Canada is already largely open to Costa Rica. Canada of course is now looking to expand its market into Costa Rica, so in that sense it is a good initiative because if it already has so much duty free access to our market then it only makes sense that we should negotiate with Costa Rica to remove its tariffs to give Canadian producers access to that market.
Unfortunately this is done sector by sector. Sometimes we fail to recognize that when we are in a trading agreement like this we must have all of the food on the platter at the same time. We cannot make a deal commodity by commodity and then in the end land up with a few commodities left that were not negotiated, because consequently we are unable, because we have lost our bargaining position, to get a really good deal for our own producers.
It just so happens that in the year 2000 Canada exported to Costa Rica approximately $86 million worth of goods. In that same year we imported from Costa Rica $183 million worth. At this stage, then, we have basically a net loss in income as a country because of the fact that while Costa Rica spends $86 million a year here we spend $183 million there. That is fine because it allows us to bring into this country products which we need and which are saleable here, but we must recognize that those products are also competing with those of Canadian producers and Canadian processors.
One of the areas of much concern to us as a party is the impact on the sugar industry. One of the fond memories that I have of being a youngster growing up in Saskatchewan, and which young people of today would not have any knowledge of at all, is that there used to be metal pails of Rogers Golden Syrup. It is probably the best syrup in the world. If I recall correctly most of the sugar beets that produced that syrup were grown in southern Alberta and some in British Columbia. If I am not mistaken, the processing refineries for this sugar were actually in eastern Canada, in Ontario and Quebec. At any rate, we had this syrup and it was a wonderful product. In fact I would hasten to surmise that perhaps Rogers Golden Syrup has had a significant contribution in making me into the man I am today, and I mean that in a humorous sense of that word, because we used that syrup a lot in our home.
Rogers syrup came in little 10 pound pails that when empty became our lunch buckets that we carried to school. Nowadays this of course would never be done. Nowadays the youngsters have designer lunch kits. However in those days we were not different from our neighbours. We were poor and we made use of everything we had. When the pails were empty they became our lunch buckets and we walked to school carrying these pails with Rogers Golden Syrup written on them. They contained our sandwiches or whatever our mother produced for us for the day.
We can see that the history of the Canadian sugar industry is a long one, not that I am terribly old, but we are talking about 50 years ago at least. Even at that time the syrup was a wonderful, very good, high quality product.
At this stage, as far as I know, Costa Rica does not have any substantial amount of output in actually refining and processing its sugar. This means very simply that the tariff on sugars, which is designed to protect the market in whatever country, is very one sided. In fact, the United States and most Latin American countries have an import tariff on their sugar ranging anywhere from 50% to 160%. In other words, when we export that product our people have to be very efficient in order to compete in those markets since there is an automatic price added to our product as it crosses a border.
My biggest complaint about Bill C-32 is that there is not nearly a rapid enough or substantial enough removal of those tariffs that tend to inhibit the flow of our product into the other countries. As a matter of fact, knowing the way the Liberal government operates I can see that in the future, perhaps under CIDA or some other of our other wonderful plans, we would actually be helping Costa Rica build a processing plant so that it could process its sugar there and export it to Canada duty free. If we try to do that with our product when sending it there, we will have a tariff to pay in various stages for at least 10 years. There is no guarantee, as I see it in the bill, that the tariff would ever be removed.
Why would we not negotiate on this issue in such a way that it is fair for Canadians instead of lopsided? We may have all sorts of altruistic motives in this matter. Perhaps we want to help the Costa Rican people. I have no problem with that. Sure, let us help them, let us trade with them, but if we are to compete let us compete on a level playing field.
I hasten to point out that this agreement could become a template for future agreements with some of the other Central American countries. If we do not fix this problem, it will be embedded in the agreements with countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Each of those countries not only has some considerable capacity to refine their sugar and to export it, but they also have large subsidies.
For the life of me I cannot see why we would not, while we are negotiating these tariffs, also make sure that we do not repeat the errors that we made with wheat agreements. We should say very clearly that if we remove tariffs they must remove their subsidies. We did not do this with wheat. That is why the United States, still subsidizing its farmers substantially more than Canada, is a very unfair trading partner with respect to the sale and the movement of Canadian products.
In Canada with respect to wheat we have the barrier of the wheat board which applies, by the way, only to the prairie provinces. Go figure that one. Why should wheat producers in Ontario or Quebec or Atlantic Canada be able to sell their grain without going through the wheat board? If the wheat producers happen to be in Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta the mighty thumb of the federal government is on top of them. If they try to make a move they go to jail. That is scary. We have actually had our own government, not the importing country, not the United States, put our own farmers in jail because of their attempts to sell their own products at a price that is better and more immediate as opposed to what the wheat board offers.
In negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States did we insist that it remove its subsidies? No. Consequently it has them. Consequently our farmers are operating at a disadvantage.
Now we have Canada making this agreement with Costa Rica and looking ahead at some of the other countries with which we will undoubtedly be processing a trade agreement . We are in favour of that, but we had better make sure that we put all of the elements on the negotiating table, not just the tariffs and the free trade. Let us also very clearly specify and demand as a condition that the subsidization be included in those negotiations and that the subsidization be removed. How can we compete?
A number of years ago I had a friend who sold one brand of imported Japanese vehicles in Canada. Along came another importer from Korea. The Canadian government for some reason exempted the Korean manufacturer's automobiles from some of the import tariffs. As a result it became a very unfair playing field, just because of the negotiations of the government.
We need to make sure that all Canadians in these trade agreements are treated fairly.
We should also note that right now, to the best of my knowledge, every country in the Americas, Central America and South America, and including the United States, subsidizes its farmers except Canada. At least to put it this way, their subsidies are much higher in proportion. We are remiss in our duties to our own people if we do not make sure that these tariffs are not stacked against us in view of those duty free agreements.
I would also like to say that there is a considerable movement of agricultural goods around the country and it is so important to Canada. It is my belief that approximately 80% of our food production is destined for export, so we had better have good trade agreements. We had better have fair tariffs. We had better make sure that our producers are protected.
As a matter of fact, our economic well-being is largely dependent on the export of those agricultural products. For every $100 worth of food that Canadian farmers produce we Canadians consume only about $20 worth of it and $80 of it goes to feed people in other parts of the world. That is great. We should be very proud of that.
I happen to come from an agricultural community. I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan. To this day my brother farms on the family farm and on more land he has added. We often speak in our family of the contribution that we have made in providing food not only for Canadians but also for people around the world. One of the great things that some of our people have done in Saskatchewan, and I think this happens in other parts of the country as well, is that farmers have actually given some of their surplus as a donation to some of the third world countries where people are starving because of a lack of food when we have so much.
It behooves our government to make sure that we have a market for the food we produce for export, but it has to be done fairly.
We had a considerably lengthy and interesting debate last night on agriculture. I do not think we adequately recognize that a good, solid, secure food source is a very important base of our national security. If we were ever to lose our agriculture industry, and I mean all agriculture, our food producing sources, the farmers and fishermen, and our infrastructure to process food, we would suddenly no longer enjoy the security of a plentiful and safe food supply.
It is incumbent upon on us as a country, especially in these troubling days, to make sure that our producers and processors can survive and be strong economically and in their businesses. We need to make sure we do not jeopardize that in any way.
I am inclined right now to vote against the bill simply because it is not good enough. I absolutely love the idea of free trade and being able to export our food around the world. I love the idea that we can provide it to those who do not have as much we do. However let us make sure that we do not hobble our own farmers. We should not attach a weight to their ankles.
This is just a small diversion. In the agreement dairy, poultry, egg and beef products are excluded from this present provision. Presumably that will come at some future time in some future agreement, but it is not included now.
I think I have laid my case in front of the House and the Canadian people. It is very important that in this instance our government be given a message. It should go back to the bargaining table. It should strengthen the protection of our sugar industry. It is not there now. Unless we change that, I cannot vote in favour of the bill because of that very serious and fatal flaw.