Mr. Chair, it really is a pleasure for me to rise in this debate tonight on a subject that has been of interest to me ever since I came to this place. I have been working with the textile and apparel industry for a long time and have known the challenges faced by this industry as a result of free trade, of the initiatives taken by the government and of what is happening to the workers in this industry.
I would like to take the opportunity to offer some comments on a file that I have had occasion to work on for the last seven years. It is one that is increasingly challenging because of the global context in which this industry works, and the marketplace in which all nations now must compete.
My hon. colleagues are no doubt aware that this competition will even be fiercer in 2005 when all countries eliminate their quotas on the textile and apparel products, as agreed in 1994, further to negotiations held at the World Trade Organization. According to these obligations, Canada will have to eliminate all remaining quotas on textile and apparel products as of January 1, 2005.
To assist the Canadian textile and apparel producers in adjusting to this competitive trade environment, the government, as the minister announced in the House earlier, will remove tariffs on textile imports used in apparel production and on fibre and yarn imports.
Although this measure alone is expected to reduce input costs for both textile and apparel manufacturers by up to $90 million per year, it is important to note that duties will remain in force on products where domestically produced Canadian fibres, yarns and fabrics are available. The Canadian International Trade Tribunal will work in consultation with Canadian textile producers to identify the products that they manufacture.
May I say that they already have a list because there was a comment made by the opposition members that this will also be a long process but there is already a process that has begun and there is a list that has already been given actually to the international trade tribunal which will not take forever in order to establish a list.
Under this new framework, importers will have to pay transitional duties during the consultation process and until a final decision is reached on the imported inputs that will benefit from tariff relief. The importers will then be able to ask for a refund of duties paid after January 1, 2005.
Today's announcement will also provide an additional $50 million over five years to the textiles production efficiency initiative, CANtex, which was announced by the Minister of Industry.
CANtex was granted $26.7 million in February to assist Canadian textile manufacturing firms to become more competitive and take advantage of new market opportunities. The initiative builds on the $33 million Canadian apparel and textile industry program, which has funded in fact over 300 projects to assist apparel and textile companies in enhancing their productivity, lowering costs, improving efficiency and identifying new markets.
When hon. members in the opposition say that we have done nothing on this file, I would like to remind them that this is the type of money that has been invested by the government in that industry.
Currently, eligible projects under the CANtex program involve initiatives related to textile production activities, such as the implementation of textile production processes to increase productivity, the modification of existing production equipment, facilities to produce different textile products and the improvement of textile production capabilities to reduce costs.
Current eligible costs include: the studies undertaken to identify appropriate textile production efficiency initiatives and/or to assess market opportunities for new or different textile production capacity; studies directly related to the project; planning directly related to the project; consultant and professional fees directly related to the project; staff wages and salaries directly related to the project; and equipment installation, engineering, software and staff training costs directly related to the project.
An additional $50 million will help producers of textiles used in traditional garments adjust their production to other markets. This money will also help promote excellence in the production of technical, special and industrial textiles, and give them the flexibility they need to succeed in the increasingly integrated markets we have now. With the CANtex program, industries will be able to ask for refundable contributions of up to $3 million for various projects, including the procurement of equipment and material.
I have certain industries in my riding that I have visited. Now it is no longer the ladies or gentlemen at a sewing machine. It is very much less labour intensive than it used to be years ago, and more high tech. A lot of the owners tell me that those machines cost over a half a million U.S. dollars. This part of the initiative, where we will be also more flexible than in the old CANtex program, will be of assistance to those companies that want to go into buying equipment that makes them more competitive on the international level.
As hon. members are no doubt aware, duty remission orders were introduced in 1997-98 by the government as temporary measures to help textile and apparel firms adjust to a more competitive trade environment. Specifically, they gave certain companies in six textile and apparel subsectors the right to a remission of duties paid on certain imports. Benefits have averaged $30 million annually over the past three years to the industry. Again, I would like to remind the hon. members on the other side that this government was the one that put those duty remission orders in place.
Although the current orders were set to expire on December 31, today's announcement will extend those orders for another five years, but will now include a phase-out period over the final three years. Remission order benefits will decline to 75% of original levels in 2007, 50% in 2008 and 25% in 2009. They will expire entirely on December 31, 2009. This phase-out period will allow beneficiary firms the opportunity to adjust to the 2009 expiry date.
The measures announced today are in addition to the more than $70 million in federal assistance to the textile and apparel industries in the last few years.
Just one example of this targeted assistance will be the $10.9 million provided in June 2003 for the Canada Border Services Agency to counter the illegal transshipments of textile and apparel products, products that came after the LCD initiatives that this government introduced, and which I personally opposed because of the impact that it would have on the textile and apparel industry.
In February the government announced $26.7 million in tariff reductions to benefit the apparel industry.
Today's announcement on the elimination of tariffs on all imported fibre, yarn and textile imports that are not produced in Canada supercedes and, in my opinion, goes beyond the $26.7 million tariff relief initiative.
The finance minister, whom I would like to thank for taking into consideration various representations on both sides of the House, will ask the Canadian International Trade Tribunal to hold consultations with the textile industry in order to ascertain the kinds of fibre, threads and textiles made in Canada.
But this will not take a year, as was said in one press conference. There is already a list drawn up by the industry.
Because innovation and investment are key to the industry's future successes in the global trading environment and to its continuing contribution to the health of the Canadian economy, I would be remiss not to mention some of the steps the government has taken outside of the tariff framework that have contributed to the sector's dramatic rebirth as a competitive high tech innovator.
Given the mobility of investment capital globally, a competitive tax system is critical to fostering business investment in Canada. Investment supports economic growth and job creation. The Canadian textile and apparel industry has demonstrated clearly that with more and better equipment embodying the latest technology, workers are more productive. As I said earlier, I have seen that for myself.
Increased investment and higher labour productivity in turn lead to increased employment, higher wages and a higher standard of living. The importance of improving the competitiveness of the tax system has been underscored in recent years by reductions in corporate tax rates for many of our major trading partners, establishing a Canadian tax advantage for investments, jobs and growth.
As time is running out, without continuing on the subject of tax, which I think is an important component, I would like to say that I am a member of Parliament who represents a number of apparel and textile manufacturers. I have had the opportunity over the years to meet with the entrepreneurs in my riding to learn about the challenges they face. I believe that their concerns are legitimate. For this reason, I have been working along with my colleagues on the government benches, as well as the Prime Minister and all ministers concerned to ensure a viable future for this industry's entrepreneurs and workers. Today's announcement in my opinion will do just that.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the general assembly of the Textiles Human Resources Council, an organization dedicated to ensuring that employees of the textile industry attain and maintain world class skills. This is an industry that we have been supporting through CED and also Industry Canada. They are doing innovative training and education, ranging from CD-ROMs to fully interactive computer courses.
The Textiles Human Resources Council has made every effort to ensure the continuous upgrading of the industry's workforce, knowledge and skills. The outcome has seen the evolution of the oldest manufacturing industries in Canada into highly modernized capital intensive industries, selling to over 150 industrial sectors.
In closing, I am very encouraged by the fact that the government has moved on recommendations made by the finance committee. I also want to highlight the fact that I made an announcement today on behalf of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development regarding the two workers' initiatives that were put in my riding and in Laval.