moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak at third reading of Bill C-21, an act to amend the Customs Tariff.
This bill provides for the continuation of a longstanding policy of providing preferential tariff treatment to developing and least developed countries.
I will begin my remarks today by providing the House with some background to this issue. I will then discuss the bill and why it deserves to be passed without delay.
In the mid-1960s, there was widespread recognition that preferential tariff treatment for developing countries was a means of fostering the economic growth and well-being of poorer nations.
Consequently, in 1968, it was agreed at the United Nations conference on trade and development that a system of trade preferences should be implemented for developing countries.
This decision was implemented by most industrialized countries, including Canada, who agreed to provide more favourable treatment to products imported from developing countries than to similar products from industrialized countries. Countries also agreed that the preferential tariff programs would be generalized, non-discriminatory and non-reciprocal.
It is with those principles in mind that most industrialized countries implemented preferential tariff programs benefiting the developing world.
Canada’s program, the general preferential tariff, or GPT, was implemented on July 1, 1974 and has been renewed twice, in 1984 and 1994. The more generous least developed country tariff, or LDCT, was introduced in 1983. Both programs are set to expire on June 30, 2004.
Under the GPT, the general preferential tariff, more than 180 countries and territories are entitled to zero or low tariffs on a large majority of products that are covered under the customs tariff, with the exception of some agricultural products, refined sugar, and most textiles, apparel and footwear.
Like other industrialized countries, Canada introduced a program, the LDCT, the least developed country tariff, which provides even more generous preferential treatment to goods from the world's poorest countries as designated by the United Nations and based on a number of criteria such as national income, health and education.
Since January 2003, Canada, acting on a commitment made at the 2002 G-8 summit in Kananaskis, provides complete duty-free access under this program to all imports from 48 least developed countries except for certain agricultural goods such as dairy, poultry and eggs.
Bill C-21 simply extends both preferential tariff programs in their current form for another 10 years, from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2014, as per past practice. Extending these programs makes sense for several reasons.
First, an extension will continue a longstanding Canadian policy that is consistent with the international practice of providing preferential tariff treatment to goods from the world's poorer nations. Extending these tariff programs will simply reaffirm the government's commitment to promoting the export capability and economic growth of developing and least developed countries, the main reasons these tariff programs were established in the first place.
This brings me to the second reason for extending these programs. Continuing these programs for a fixed period of 10 years will provide certainty and predictability to the traders who use them. Exporters in developing and least developed countries will continue to benefit from the preferential access provided by the programs.
These programs have supported growth in the export sectors of many developing countries, but they still have a long way to go. Many developing countries still need preferential access to the markets of the developed world in order to improve their economic status.
Another reason to continue these programs is that they complement Canada's foreign aid policies. By allowing developing countries preferential access, we will continue Canada's tradition of assisting the developing world. We will also keep to commitments toward international development that Canada has made on many occasions in forums such as the G-8, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
Hon. members should note that all other major industrialized countries provide preferential access for developing and least developed countries and some, such as the United States, Japan and the European Union, have recently extended similar programs.
A final reason why extending these programs makes sense concerns their impact here at home. While these programs were mostly conceived as an economic assistance measure for developing and least developed countries, they also benefit Canadians by providing them with goods that are subject to lower rates of duty.
As a result of lower tariffs on goods from the developing world, Canadian consumers enjoy access to imported goods at competitive prices.
Also, Canadian producers who rely on goods from developing countries as inputs also benefit from the reduced tariff, which helps them reduce their production costs and hence, increase their competitiveness. Accordingly, these tariff programs contribute to the economic development of the beneficiary countries while allowing Canadians to benefit.
It is important to know, too, that under these programs, preferences can be withdrawn if they are found to be injurious to domestic producers. I want to assure the House that, where imports at a reduced tariff are found to be injurious to Canadian producers of particular goods, the government has the means to remove the lower tariff for such goods.
There is another point I want to make before closing. Not only will this bill allow for the continuation of Canada’s support for economic growth within the developing world, these programs will continue to make an important contribution to the Canadian economy.
In 2003, Canadian imports under the GPT and LDCT were valued at $9.7 billion, and these programs reduced the amount of tariffs paid by Canadian importers by approximately $273 million. I mentioned earlier that the reasons that justified the introduction of the GPT and the LDCT decades ago still remain.
The economies of many developing countries still have to make great strides if their citizens are to attain acceptable income levels. Despite the progress of the past decades, the United Nations estimates that 1.2 billion people—one-fifth of the world’s population—still live on less than US$1 a day.
Bill C-21 constitutes one substantive measure Canada can take to continue to assist the developing world in achieving the goal of poverty reduction and continues Canada’s long tradition of helping poorer nations.
In considering this bill, I encourage hon. members to keep in mind that Canada stands with all other major industrialized nations—the United States, Japan and the European Union—in supporting the developing world through preferential tariff programs.
I would also encourage hon. members to keep the following points in mind:first, that a 10-year extension of these programs is consistent with past practice and will continue to provide a predictable business environment to traders—we will know where we are going; andthat a 10-year extension of these programs will reaffirm the government’s long-term commitment to international development.
In closing, I simply want to remind the House that our colleague, the Minister of Industry, recently announced various aid measures, in particular for the Canadian textile and apparel industry, for a total of approximately $60 million over the next three years.
I encourage all hon. members to support this bill.