Mr. Speaker, I am glad to take part in the debate today. This is far from a new issue in the House of Commons or in the U.S. congress for that matter. The problem with free trade in lumber between Canada and the United States goes back some 25 years.
I thank my colleague from Vancouver Island North for raising this important issue for debate in the House. It is very timely because the Prime Minister is in Washington and the deadline of March 21 for the final determination on duties is looming.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with the member for Surrey Central.
There is a 25 year history to this issue and most of it has not been very good from Canada's point of view. Although we have won all the disputes in the past, we are continually being harassed by the United States on this issue and we do not have free trade in lumber. There have been many attempts to put Canada on the defensive. Canada's softwood lumber industry is far more competitive than that in the United States. It is simply a matter of protectionism by the U.S. congress, the U.S. department of commerce and the U.S. softwood lumber industry which is not as competitive as our Canadian industry and therefore tries to protect its interests.
It goes against the whole spirit of the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States which was negotiated in 1987-88. The trade law has put us in this position, the discussions which took place in 1988 in the softwood lumber and the free trade negotiations. There was an attempt at that time to do away with trade law, countervail and anti-dumping. The United States and Canada put many things on the table. Eventually we came to an agreement on the free trade agreement but there were a number of areas that both sides wanted to protect.
The U.S. did not want to give up its trade law. In fact the U.S. kept it. One of the reasons was that Canada was also trying to defend certain areas that it did not want to give up, such as the cultural industries, for example the magazine industry, and the textile industry. Canada did not want to give up the ability to subsidize other areas such as supply management in agriculture. There was some resistance on both sides to complete the whole process of free trade.
We have not had free trade. In fact, we have many integrated industries which have become more integrated with the United States some 15 years after the free trade agreement. There is not as much need or will in the United States to protect its trade law.
A panel was struck at that time to study whether there was a need in many areas for trade law between Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, the federal government dropped the ball. Those negotiations broke down in 1994 and never were completed as was intended. Had they been completed perhaps we would not be in the situation we are in today of having to defend an industry that we believe is right and is not being subsidized by the Canadian government. Because the Liberals did not continue to do their homework, that whole area of countervail and anti-dumping was dropped in 1994.
This is a huge problem in my riding in northern Alberta. A lot of very efficient mills are producing softwood lumber and exporting it to the United States. If we had a true free trade agreement, if we had the access we think we should have, there would not be a problem because lumber is manufactured cheaper in Canada and we are very competitive. Because we still have these barriers to trade, it is hurting people in my riding to a great extent. Their jobs are based on the softwood lumber industry and they manufacture and produce a huge amount of it. There will be future layoffs.
The minister says that we have to be all loving in here today and there is an all party agreement. I appreciate that but I have to point out nonetheless that the Liberal government dropped the ball. It let the working group between Canada and the United States on trade law drop.
I was there. I was the trade critic for our party for five years, from 1993-99. It was a different minister at the time, but I was there when the government signed the softwood lumber agreement with the United States. Many of us, including myself, said it was a huge mistake.
We are getting something less than we are entitled to under the free trade agreement. Why would we cave in and accept limitations on the amount of product we are putting into the United States? Others have pointed out that it probably cost our Canadian industry between $6 billion and $8 billion a year in lost opportunities.
Some claims were made by industry officials especially from some of the big corporations from British Columbia. They said they could not use the World Trade Organization because it would be a five year process and no one would know what would happen afterward.
The minister of the day did not challenge those claims. He did not say that the World Trade Organization was different from the original GATT. He did not say that improvements had been made. From the time this thing started until it concluded was probably more like two years. We know there are some problems with that agreement as well. Ultimately that is where the dispute has to end up. There has to be a clear decision. The issue has to be taken out of the hands of the two combatants, Canada and the United States.
Some 150 member countries signed on at the World Trade Organization, including Canada and the United States. I would welcome a panel at the World Trade Organization to hear this issue.
Canada is right. We have a different system than that in the United States, but that does not mean it is wrong and it does not mean we are subsidizing our industry. If the panel found that we were subsidizing our industry and agreed with the United States, we would have to change our domestic policy. This has happened in many other areas. I would submit that the United States is finding that it is actually winning more cases at the World Trade Organization and that this vehicle is not as suspect as it used to be.
There are still some problems. We do not know what will happen with the duties being charged to our industry in the interim, which may be up to two years. I submit that might be a better route to go than a poor agreement that we may be forced to sign in a negotiated sense.
I continually hold out the hope that things are going to improve and that the United States will come to its senses. I guess I am from Missouri. I want to see it happen. Although the minister has said that there is a good chance of a negotiated settlement, I am concerned it will not be a good settlement for Canada.
The Government of Canada should put the same kind of will and resources into protecting the softwood lumber industry as it does for the aerospace industry and as it does for Bombardier when it takes EDC's guarantees and helps it. The aerospace industry gets a lot of attention, but when it comes to supporting the softwood lumber industry, the government should put more resources into helping it get a final determination.