House of Commons Hansard #27 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tariffs.


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10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too want to echo the concerns raised by the two members who specifically questioned the minister about the impact on the textile industry. I believe the minister may have referred to this, but I believe December 31, 2004 is the exact date when the remission orders, which applied to textile industries, will be eliminated. If remissions are removed from these various industries, the inputs they use and obtain from many countries will skyrocket because, as some of our colleagues have mentioned, they are not available in Canada. The duties on those products will go extremely high which will force prices in the country to raise to unprecedented levels. As my colleague from the NDP said, this will have a huge impact on Canadian workers.

One thing the government has an opportunity to address, given that there is goodwill to extend these preferential tariffs, is the issue of remission orders. I believe all parties are generally supporting the move to have this legislation pass. It would be good to have an indication from the Department of Finance that it will address the issue of remission orders with these industries. It would put our industry at a huge disadvantage if there were no reciprocal agreement or some sort of extension of remission orders. We have said that we would extend those for the next seven years. I believe they initially were extended in 1997.

Could the minister comment on that because I think the industry faces a huge problem?

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10:30 a.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quickly comment on the decision made in Kananaskis to help the least developed countries. Helping the 48 least developed countries is an important initiative because, as we know, most of these countries are in Africa.

There is also the Canada fund for Africa, which was announced last year by the Canadian government. Out of a $500 million fund, an amount of $100 million was set aside to create partnerships with Canadian businesses. The private sector is also expected to contribute an amount of $100 million which, in the end, should provide an investment fund of some $200 million.

The objective is to ensure that we provide help, particularly to the world's poorest continent, a continent where life expectancy continues to drop, while poverty is constantly on the rise. Under these circumstances, it is definitely in the interest of a number of African countries, including those that produce cotton—such as Benin for example—to associate themselves with Canadian businesses to develop their industry, as I have mentioned on several occasions.

I realize that this is not a cure-all. What we are trying to do as a government, and I think we are succeeding, is to first meet our international obligations, but also to lend a helping hand to the poorest people on the planet while protecting Canada's textile and clothing industries.

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10:35 a.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister a question. Last week, there was talk of lifting all quotas on textile and clothing imports from China. I know that this is not strictly related to the bill before us this morning, but it is along the same lines.

When the government implements measures affecting tariff and non-tariff quotas—for example, to decrease them—does the government consider the potential impact on Quebec and Canadian companies? In particular, does it consider unfair competition from those countries? For example, it is commonly known that there are doubts about China's willingness to practise fair competition with regard to our own apparel companies, especially if quotas are lifted.

Many apparel manufacturers in my region of Saint-Hyacinthe, as in the regions of most of my colleagues, were hurt by this announcement. Already, subcontractors are looking to China, abandoning local producers to buy from countries that do not necessarily practise fair competition.

I want to ask the minister this: Does Canada consider this kind of thing? I am not talking about a mere transition policy to help companies; I am talking about ensuring that competition is truly fair. There are no problems when trade is fair. But when it is not, we do not want to pay the price of unfair competition.

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10:35 a.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot for this question. First, it is important to realize that the purpose of this bill is not to decrease tariffs, but renew existing tariffs for 10 years.

Second, the clothing and textile industry in Canada is asking us for help. At the same time, we are saying that a certain amount of money will be granted to the textile industry over three years and another sum of money will be available to the clothing industry. This is to determine which tariffs can be reduced in terms of the products unavailable in Canada to this industry.

Representatives from the clothing industry reminded us that these tariffs are in place to protect the Canadian industry. They must not become a type of tax or a source of revenue for the government. They must be used to protect the Canadian industry.

With that in mind, it is important to realize that high tariffs on products unavailable in Canada can be reviewed with both the clothing and textile groups with an eye to possible reductions. There is nothing specific about China. To my knowledge, China is not the focus.

I will reiterate: I am asking for support from all members so that we can renew these tariffs for 10 years as quickly as possible.

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10:35 a.m.


Claude Drouin Liberal Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a comment. I think that the $60 million invested by the Government of Canada is a significant amount and my hon. colleague, the minister, is aware of that. We must be vigilant. Quebec, and the Beauce in particular, is very much affected by globalization. It has an important impact on our region.

I hope that the department of industry or foreign trade will follow up on this, to ensure that jobs at home are protected and that we are in a position to allow Canadian businesses to establish partnerships with developing countries to build on the offer made here, to protect our jobs and add value to our products. In this way we will be able to get through this crisis. It is important for there to be follow-up. I am happy to see this $60 million being invested by the Canadian government.

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10:40 a.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank and congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Beauce, former Secretary of State for Regional Economic Development, who has done a great deal for this industry in Canada. Many thanks to my colleague, the hon. member for Beauce, for having worked very hard for this industry in Canada and having helped it to achieve a solid position.

Of course, what is important in all this is our Canadian jobs. Of course, what is important in all this is to help people. I also thank him for having pointed out the aspect of the aid we could give with the fund I was speaking of earlier, to help Africa and others. We can certainly encourage our Canadian businesses, and their managers, to help train African businesses, in the least developed countries, in sectors where the need is the greatest.

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10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure today to speak to Bill C-21. As we heard from the minister who just spoke, the bill is an act to extend the two areas of tariffs for another 10 years: the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff.

Before I go into the details of some of the bill and some of the concerns that we have, as well as some of the things we support, I want to clarify one thing which I think the minister has misunderstood.

Everyone in the House wants to support the strategy of the government that would extend these tariffs to least developed countries. Obviously it is a good thing for Canada in its strategy to help many of these developing countries. It would give the opportunity for many of these countries to actually develop their own industries, to hopefully become stronger, more developed economies.

I know the bill does not address the area of remissions because that is a separate area that is set by the Department of Finance through orders in council. Clearly, one of the things we have to be cognizant about if we are moving forward to extend these tariffs for another 10 years is we have to see what sort of measures have been kept in place in order to help Canadian industry.

In some of our strategies internationally, whether they are free trade agreements or various reciprocal agreements under various existing organizations like the WTO or the Free Trade Area of the Americas, there are certain things we have to take into consideration to ensure that Canadian industries are not put at a disadvantage. If anything, we want them to be on an equal footing or to be able to take advantage of these trade relationships that we develop with various developing countries.

In extending these tariffs what the minister failed to address was that area which I addressed in my question to him, the expiration of the remission orders that are extended specifically to textile industries. The concern is that if those particular remissions are not addressed, whether the tariffs would be reduced for inputs or whether those remission orders would be extended, we would have a serious problem in this country where some of our textile industries would be put at a huge disadvantage. As I said, their inputs would skyrocket at the end of this year, which would then threaten potential Canadian jobs as well as our relationships with trying to produce these products here at home.

I am happy the minister talked a bit about some of the products that are not available here in Canada, some of those inputs. He will try to address that and make sure that we try to address the tariffs or duties on those particular products. It would be nice to see, with the support that I believe he has in this House for the passage of this bill, the Department of Finance actually come up with some concrete steps as to how it will address those potential problems that arise after the expiration of the remission order.

I would like to address some of the good things under Bill C-21, the extension of these various tariffs in the two particular areas for the next 10 years. Obviously we on this side of the House see the benefit of that and support it.

I will give a little background and then I will address our party's position on the bill. Also, even though we agree with this particular direction of the government, I will address how we would do things a little differently, especially when it comes to pursuing more free trade agreements with various of these countries and trying to address some of the concerns that obviously are arising with various industries.

As was mentioned, Bill C-21 would extend the general preferential tariffs and the least developed country tariffs to June 30, 2014. These two tariff categories reduce the tariffs that would otherwise apply on goods imported from developing countries.

The rate of tariff on goods entering Canada varies depending upon what the good is and from which country it originates. In the absence of any specific concessions, the 35% general tariff applies. There are only a few countries that still fall under that general tariff of 35%. Most countries would have actually either negotiated a reduced tariff or they would fall under those two categories.

According to Department of Finance lists, the countries that still fall under that 35% rate are Albania, North Korea, Libya and Oman. For all other nations, unless there is a specific other trade agreement such as NAFTA, the most favoured nation tariff applies.

The rates are usually much lower than those set out in the general tariff, as I mentioned. Those are often much lower than what the Department of Finance officials said, that the average falls, I think, between 10% and 12% and often many are zero.

The rates are usually much lower, as I mentioned, and they apply to members of the World Trade Organization and to some non-members as well. Canada, along with other developed countries, has two other categories that allow goods from developing countries at even lower rates of tariff. The goal is to aid their economic development, as the minister said, and I think most Canadians tend to agree. It is a good strategy in trying to help many of the developing countries develop their economies and become self-sufficient in a positive way which is a benefit to their industry but also to Canadian industry.

The first category is the general preferential tariff which, as we know, was established in 1974 for a 10 year period until 1984. It was then extended to 1994 and then to 2004. It provides tariff reductions beyond the most favoured nation rate to approximately 180 countries. That is what we are discussing today in Bill C-21 which would extend that general tariff rate for another 10 years.

The second category, as was mentioned by the minister, is the least developed country tariff. This provides 48 of the world's poorest nations with duty free entry into Canada for goods other than certain agricultural products. It was introduced in 1983.

Some people have asked which countries fall into that category. The information is available on the government's website, but I thought it would be useful for the debate so that people have a context as to which countries fall under those tariffs. I will not read all 48 countries, but at least this will give people an idea.

The least developed country tariff applies to Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Laos, and the list goes on and on.

On a cold wintry day like today, it is kind of nice to read about these countries. It warms my heart to think that there are people enjoying nicer weather than we are here. Nonetheless the list continues on and there are a number of African countries to which the least developed country tariff applies. I will not bore the House with the rest of the list, but it gives an idea of some of the countries that are on it.

Just to give the House an idea of how this works, there is an example that I will use. Table cutlery from North Korea faces a 35% tariff under the general tariff; an 11% tariff if imported from Italy under the most favoured nation tariff; an 8% tariff if imported from Poland under the general preferential tariff; but zero tariff if imported from Angola under the least developed country tariff. As we can see that gives the incentive for Canadian importers to deal with those particular countries that fall under the least developed country tariff regime. Obviously they benefit from importing those particular products, in that they do not pay those high duties.

The general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff categories will cease to exist after June 30, 2004 unless legislation is passed to extend them. That is what we are dealing with today in the House.

The result is that importers from the beneficiary countries would instead face higher tariffs at the most favoured nation rate. That would obviously cause a problem with the developing countries.

The incentive to encourage development in many of the developing countries is a good one. I think Canadians have always been in support of various strategies that help. Whether it is foreign aid or the evolution of many of these economies, Canadians tend to support it.

There is a great benefit if, not only alongside some of our foreign aid strategies, we focus some of our strategies on developing industry which is also reciprocally beneficial to Canadian industries. That is something we have a real interest in on this side of the House, especially in the Conservative Party.

We in this party have always believed in trying to pursue significant trade agreements, freer trade agreements. We have always encouraged governments to pursue the work under various international organizations such as the WTO. We have engaged in trying to support the process under the Free Trade Area of the Americas so we can try to address some of the other areas of industry that maybe fall through the cracks or that we can actually benefit in trying to pursue freer trade agreements.

Some people have asked about one concern: How does this particular extension of these general tariffs affect our relationships in many of our trading agreements? I believe that all the extensions of these tariffs to these least developed countries, as well as general preferred countries, are regulated under the WTO. There has been much discussion and debate. We are not really doing anything different from what many other countries do in approaching the way we deal with tariffs in these countries.

There is one thing that I know has been mentioned and this is what would happen if this legislation does not pass. What will happen if we do not extend these particular preferential tariffs in these particular categories? If they expire without that extension, then we could have some real instability in our import market, clearly because of the fact that tariffs will start applying and will throw off many of the relationships we have. As I said, it would put many of our Canadian industries at a bit of a disadvantage, especially in regard to the vast number of countries we trade with.

Ultimately what we would like to see in Canada is a two-pronged strategy. We would still extend these two areas of tariff reductions. We agree with the extension of the general preferential tariff and the least developed country tariff.

However, one thing Canada should further pursue is free trade agreements, which will lower the tariffs in a controlled manner. This would allow Canadian exporters to access many overseas markets while opening up our own markets for cheaper imports. This is something we should continue to do. I know that Canada has a number of trade agreements with a number of countries. Whether or not they are free trade agreements, we do have bilateral trade agreements with a number of these countries. They address certain areas. Often they are not blanket trade agreements. Canadians obviously need certain products and those countries are mass producers of those products, so it is a positive relationship.

Again, this is something that we should continue to do, and not just in certain areas. On this side of the House we believe that freer trade agreements should be addressed on all levels, obviously to try to encourage further growth in developing countries but also to extend abilities for Canada where products are not available, or for exporters or business opportunities in many of these developing countries as well. We would definitely urge the government to continue to review those agreements that are in place and continue to pursue freer trade agreements.

We also would urge the government to try to encourage a less complicated system when it comes to various tariffs and various agreements being created with these countries. If Canadians decided to take a look at some of these agreements we have in place because of these two particular categories, they would see that it is a very confusing system. Also, it is very ad hoc depending on how the Department of Finance decides to deal with the particular countries.

When Department of Finance officials were at the committee, many of them said that is the way they actually deal with cases. They try not to bring in issues of human rights or other problems that they may have directly related with some of these countries. That is one way they can respond in case a conflict arises with a particular country and we do not agree with a certain direction that country is following.

Through orders in council, those various tariffs can be changed, not those under the general preferential tariff or the least developed country tariff, but in other cases that may arise when we look at sanctions or other issues. This is a tool the government has with orders in council to respond to various countries. Obviously on this side of the House we are a bit concerned about the government having that kind of power to just set tariffs ad hoc without any real process in how they would be established.

There is one area I wanted to address, which probably a few of my colleagues from the NDP and a few government members have addressed with the minister. It is the issue of remission orders. It sounds a bit complicated, but let me give an explanation. Even though it does not fall under this bill in particular, it is so closely related that we must address it.

I am happy to say that in committee, as was mentioned by one of my colleagues, the members of the committee heard from this particular group of the textile industry. We were concerned enough that we were able to pass a motion unanimously to address this issue with a couple of recommendations for the Minister of Finance, so that in the passage of this bill consideration hopefully will be given to the textile industry and the extension of those remission orders.

Remission orders have been around for quite some time, as I have identified, especially in industries that have been affected negatively. I will explain. There are remission orders for various textiles. Specifically, there was a new shirt remission order that provided shirtmakers with transitional assistance to help them remain in the shirt business in Canada. Similar remissions are also being considered for manufacturers of outerwear apparel and women's blouses and shirts. Shirting fabric and outerwear fabric are subsectors that are currently receiving assistance under existing remissions.

This means that the duties on those particular areas of fabric will be reduced. Duty remissions will enable Canadian manufacturers to complement the products they manufacture in Canada, so that would help to continue to encourage our industry to grow and flourish here in Canada. It will also help textile and apparel manufacturers in these import-sensitive sectors to adjust to the same kind of increased competition faced by shirtmakers.

As I mentioned in my question to the minister, the remissions will be terminated no later than December 31, 2004, to give Canadian manufacturers enough time to adjust to a more open freer trading regime and will not be renewed.

That was the attempt by the government to say that it wanted to put a limit on these remission orders, because if we look at the various agreements that exist within the textile industry area we see that many of them are very outdated. Ultimately there was this extension of remissions to reduce the duties in that particular area so that we would not put our own industries at a disadvantage.

But I think we have to go a bit further and modernize some of the rules under which the Department of Finance deals with this industry, because clearly they are outdated. To continue to extend remission orders is not really the answer if we can negotiate these tariff issues ahead of time, if that is allowed to happen. I believe that the former finance minister, the Prime Minister, said he was not going to extend those particular remissions. We could have a huge problem with the benefits these particular companies receive when it comes to the various inputs they rely on in producing their products.

One of the things we have agreed to, if the Department of Finance will address this issue, is to extend those particular remission orders for another seven years. We are not sure yet what the government plans to do. The minister said he is taking that into consideration, but clearly if it is not addressed before the end of the year, as I have already mentioned, we are going to put our industry at a huge disadvantage. We hope to see some indication from the Department of Finance that this issue will be addressed.

As I have said, extending this would specifically help Canadian companies with their inputs. Some of these products are not available in Canada, so clearly that is something about which we should be cognizant. If we are not producing these products at home, we should lower those tariffs because it would give the opportunity for Canadian companies to access those products. An example is lycra or other polysynthetics that are not produced here. Importing these products is very expensive.

There is another area that was not addressed by the minister. We hope the finance department and the minister will address it. There still exists a gender bias on products. I will give an example of what that means. We need to eliminate the tariffs that create this gender bias on fabric. For instance, if importers import silk to produce ties for menswear, the tariffs are not high; they fall under the preferential tariff. However, if they import silk products to produce women's blouses, they are subject to higher duties and tariffs. It is unusual that this sort of gender bias exists in this day and age. Unfortunately, the particular tariffs that apply to these textile industries have not been modernized. That is a scenario I hope to address as the committee deals with this bill. I hope to put forward some amendments or recommendations and I hope the Department of Finance will consider them.

To conclude, I will reiterate that our side of the House, the Conservative Party, will support this bill to extend these various tariffs. We think it is important given the way that our tariff system works, especially in our trading agreements around the world, but we also encourage the government to address some of the failures, especially as applied to the textile industry, but also under the FTAA and other agreements we have. We encourage the government to continue to pursue free trade agreements that will help to keep our companies in Canada on an equal footing with those in other countries as well, even alongside our developing strategies, whether they be commerce or aid related strategies.

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11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, my colleague and the hon. member from Winnipeg mentioned fabrics in some detail. I believe one was denim. I am particularly interested in the fact that in Canada we do not grow cotton which, throughout the world where it grows, has great competition from synthetic fibres.

However, we are doing something in Canada and within my own constituency. We are developing a hemp plant, an amazing plant that can be grown best in western Canada, albeit it has to be licensed. I have seen some of the products made from it. Talking about denim, as my colleague was, we could produce denim here that would be equal to or greater in wearability than that which we import. Not only that, there are many other uses.

In looking at this bill, we see that we are going to spend $60 million, as my colleague has mentioned. I am not saying that this money should come out of this bill, but I suggest that in order to balance it we could sell raw material as well as produce textiles here. I have seen jackets similar to this in the experimental stage. They can be made here. Not only could we produce raw material for other countries, but we could lessen our dependency on some of the imports.

Here is what I want to ask my hon. colleague. Would it upset this bill if we took some innovative money from other sources opposite us here, from western development and so on, and worked in earnest on developing a type of plant and product that not only would serve the textile industry in our own country but would have various other uses? Much would have to be produced. For instance, we could make tarpaulins and certain types of rope, et cetera. We can make them all here, but we are reluctant to do so and I am reluctant to say we should. I do not know enough about why it cannot be done. I would like to ask my hon. colleague if he would not encourage this type of thing, which is all part of the balance of trade options.

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11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Souris—Moose Mountain for his excellent question and his concern for the way that Canadians can actually continue to develop new industries and support existing industries here at home.

As he rightly mentioned, this bill does not deal with these particular areas of trying to develop new textiles and new raw materials and that sort of industrial support, I guess we could call it. This simply deals with our current agreements in extending those general tariffs to least developed and preferred countries.

The hon. member has raised a very important issue. I think the government should consider it. I would also encourage the government to consider that here in Canada where we do have the ability to produce raw materials, we should continue to do that. We should give industry the incentive not only to produce it here but to continue to develop it into a final product rather than either exporting our raw materials or sourcing out raw materials elsewhere.

As I mentioned in my speech, clearly the idea of helping to develop least developed countries is something that I think Canadians support. We have to be cognizant about Canadian industry to make sure that we do not put it at a disadvantage, but the idea, as my hon. colleague talked about, is to produce hemp or other forms of raw materials, if the government could produce some sort of incentive. There are ways to do that, whether it is some sort of tax incentive or other forms of incentive to create and stimulate new areas of industry and growth in this country. Of course we would encourage the government to pursue and support that.

Clearly that is a separate issue, and we hope to continue, as my colleague has done, to encourage the government to pursue those sorts of support mechanisms and at the same time, under this particular bill, the things that we are pursuing for the future. I hope that in pursuing the strategies we have, we do not put Canadian companies and Canadian industry at a disadvantage but instead help to develop new opportunities for industry here in Canada.

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11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about two issues. One would be the apparent conflict between the needs of the apparel industry and the textile industry when it comes to the importation of fabrics and the tariffs applied on those fabrics. The needs of the two industries are different.

The other issue is the whole notion of the ability, especially in today's world, of corporations and companies, which may be currently providing employment to Canadians, to simply move offshore to a venue where wages are cheaper, thus depriving Canadians of jobs.

In our recent leadership contest, one of the candidates, Ms. Stronach, noted that in her industry, the automotive industry, one major corporation had indicated to her that currently it was outsourcing $1 billion of goods from offshore, and that within the next couple of years it intended to be sourcing offshore something in the neighbourhood of $14 billion worth of goods. The fact is that those goods probably were supplied previously by manufacturers in North America and likely many of those jobs were Canadian jobs.

This bill has come up very quickly. We are now in rush mode. We want to get the bill through Parliament because the treaty is expiring and yet there are a lot of questions about what actions the government may or may not have taken when it comes to protecting the interests of Canadians with this. We all appreciate the need for encouraging development in third world countries, which is very important, but at the same time there is this balancing act of protecting the jobs of Canadians.

I wonder if my friend would have any comment on those issues.

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11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised the concerns that most people have been discussing.

I would like to address his first point concerning the haste with which the bill has come into the House, given that those preferential tariffs will be expiring very shortly. It is kind of hard to believe that the government has waited this long to address this issue so that we could have had further debate or a further study even in committee to maybe look at different approaches.

Because of the interest of the committee, I was glad we were able to raise the idea of specifically addressing the textile and apparel industries and the disadvantage in which they may be placed. Hopefully we can give recommendations to the finance department.

However, as I have outlined, the bill would extend those general tariffs in a way that has been consistent with the way Canadians have approached the issue. It does not necessarily give a disadvantage to the other industries that my hon. colleague mentioned.

I believe it is the government's responsibility, in pursuing these free trade agreements and in pursuing either remission holders or other areas that will help various industries to compete effectively internationally, to do it vigilantly, to make sure we keep our industry on an equal footing and that we do not put our industries at a disadvantage.

We can do that in many ways, but mainly, as I said before, by pursuing freer trade agreements with many of these countries. Currently we have bilateral agreements with various countries and they only touch on various industries. They are not as extensive as possibly they could be to allow for Canadians to take advantage of some of those issues of employment here at home, sourcing products here at home, those sorts of things that help our economy and that continue to produce new products and stay innovative and competitive.

I would say the government has failed to address those issues and to create that here at home, which is why we often have problems with countries going overseas.

Many of the countries that are sourcing these products are not developed countries, and we should not fool ourselves. They are just markets where they actually get cheaper products and cheaper goods. We have to make that distinction, and I am glad my hon. colleague did that.

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11:10 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-21. In my opinion, part of what we are addressing today is our vision of development aid.

I would remind hon. members that the purpose of this bill is to extend two customs tariff programs for another ten years. The first of these is the general preferential tariff and the second, the least developed country tariff.

The GPT dates back a good number of years—more than 25 now—to 1974. It reduces Canadian customs on a broad range of products from more than 180 developing countries. This tariff agreement, as we know, is also part of the agreement establishing the World Trade Organization.

Then there is the LDCT, which is a more recent development, although also several decades old now, dating back to 1984. It provides complete duty-free access to all imports, except for certain agricultural goods, from the 48 least developed countries, according to the United Nations.

Consequently, the bill is intended to extend to June 2014 existing provisions of the Customs Tariff legislation designed, as I mentioned, to provide developing countries with preferential access to the Canadian market. In this respect, we cannot disagree with Bill C-21.

The Bloc Quebecois, like everyone in Quebec, has always defended the idea that developing countries have a right to develop, and that closing our borders to their products is certainly not a way to help them develop.

Therefore, we want to be consistent with our approach to helping these countries develop, in particular through official development assistance. If, on the one hand, we did that, while, on the other hand, when these countries made an effort to develop, we closed our borders to their products, we would be completely contradicting ourselves.

That said, I must point out that, while Bill C-21 is a good thing in principle, there are a number of reasons for caution. I will come back to them. I would also like to point out the fact that the great contradiction is not in bringing in Bill C-21, but in bringing it in with the levels of official assistance that Canada is currently providing to developing countries.

I remind the House that, since the Liberals have been here, official assistance has decreased by nearly a half. When the Liberals came to power, official development assistance was at nearly 0.5% of the GDP or GNP in Canada, while on the international scene, the agreed-upon standard—and I believe it was the former Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Pearson, who proposed this—is 0.7% of the GNP or GDP.

Thus, when the Liberals came to power, we were almost three-quarters of the way there. Now, we are one-third of the way there. In 1993-94, when the new finance minister, now the Prime Minister, arrived, there began a time of draconian cuts in Canada's official development assistance, which dropped from 0.49% to 0.44% of GDP in 1993-94 and hit rock bottom in 2000-01, with 0.25% of GDP. There is nothing to be proud of in this. At present, it stands at about 0.27% of GDP.

The great contradiction in introducing Bill C-21 is that on one hand we are opening our market, but on the other hand we are not giving them the means to organize their development, not only from an economic perspective, but from a social perspective as well. When Quebeckers support a bill like this, they do so to ensure that development does not benefit just a handful of people in these countries, but everyone, whether in Bangladesh, Cambodia or any of the 48 least developed countries.

I remind hon. members that these 48 developing and least developed countries represent 614 million people in Southeast Asia but mostly in Africa. I also remind hon. members that the average annual income of the inhabitants of these 48 countries is $500 or less. Imagine the poverty.

Some 40% of the inhabitants of these 48 countries live on only a dollar a day. This is another example of how far these countries are lagging behind. This has appalling consequences from all perspectives, not only on general living conditions, but also life expectancy. The average life expectancy in these countries is 25 years less than the average for developed countries.

We really need to open our borders to their products and properly invest in official development assistance. We must reaffirm the need for 0.7% of the gross domestic product, which is also called the gross national product. Gross national product was used as an indicator to describe the wealth of a country when the international community agreed on a target. Now we talk about the gross domestic product, but, overall, it amounts to the same thing. Not only must we reaffirm the objective of 0.7% of the gross domestic product, but we must have a very specific plan to achieve this goal in the next few years, not the next several decades.

We can only hope that the upcoming election campaign will enable the Liberals and the other parties—as the Bloc Quebecois will be doing—to make some very firm commitments, not only with respect to the objective but also with respect to the specific plan for achieving it. We know that this government is very strong on rhetoric but very weak on actual game plan. When I was at the CSN, we likened such people to drivers who always signalled a left turn and then turned right. This is the case for the Liberal party, the party of the current Prime Minister and former finance minister.

Over and above Bill C-21, which is fully in line with our vision of development, we also expect to see Canada invest properly in official development assistance. We therefore expect a firm commitment of 0.7% of GDP, and also a plan to achieve that within about 10 years, tops. Perhaps by 2014 such a law will no longer be needed. We may be able to open our borders to all countries, in the realization that everyone will be on the same footing as far as competition goes.

There are still some concerns, and I will get to them now. These least developed countries are often involved in industrial sectors in which Canadian and Quebec businesses are engaged here. There is therefore a totally legitimate concern on the part of both workers and entrepreneurs about the survival of these industries in Quebec and Canada.

Often, unfortunately, this government's approach is somewhat paternalistic or fatalistic when it comes to a number of industrial sectors with a heavy presence in Quebec. I am thinking of the garment and textile industries, for instance. I remember my days at the Université de Montréal as a student of economics in the early 1970s, when there was talk of soft sectors. The garment industry was one of those soft sectors with no future. The government's approach to this was merely to see how plants could be closed down as quietly and as quickly as possible.

At that time there were 40,000 garment workers in the greater Montreal region. That meant 40,000 jobs that were threatened, jobs the federal government merely crossed off. Its attitude: that's life, the natural economic trend, and these soft sectors will simply disappear from our economy and reappear in the developing countries. The federal government adopted a fatalistic attitude.

Fortunately for the industry itself, for the workers, for the unions involved and for the community, thanks in part to the considerable assistance provided by the City of Montreal at that time, the apparel industry is alive and well in Montreal and still accounts for 40,000 jobs. Obviously, we have not been able to increase employment in that industry, but we have managed to maintain it at the same level despite the fatalistic attitude of the federal government and its lack of substantial support.

We have managed to maintain these 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry over the last 25 to 30 years, despite the opening up of markets, and we want to preserve them. To do so, it is clear that we will have to manufacture products that are different from those currently available. This has been the case in the past.

If we have 40,000 jobs in the apparel industry in the Montreal area, which is the same level as in the early seventies, it is because our manufacturers, our workers, have developed such knowledge and skills that clothing made in Montreal is more of a top-of-the-line product than clothing made in Bangladesh or Cambodia. It is a quality product and there is a market for it not only in Quebec and in Canada, but also in a significant number of industrialized countries, particularly in the United States.

We will have to intensify our efforts in that area. This time, there must be real assistance on the part of the federal government so that the apparel industry in particular—but it is also true of the textile industry—can improve the quality of its products, diversify its products and manufacture more added-value products in order to be able to maintain its employment level and—we can always dream—perhaps even increase it.

As I said earlier, there is no need to be unduly alarmed. In fact, the 48 least developed countries I mentioned earlier represent barely 0.17% of all imports to Canada. This is not even equivalent to level of assistance we provide to these countries, which is 0.27%. We are therefore talking about 0.17% of Canadian imports, with 92% of these imports originating essentially in two countries, Bangladesh and Cambodia, particularly with regard to clothing.

Consequently, we want the government to make a very strong commitment to monitoring the rules of origin on clothing from these countries. We want to avoid the type of situation we have experienced at times under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Basically, fabric is used to manufacture, in China for example, unfinished items of clothing which are then sent to Bangladesh, where a “Made in Bangladesh” label is affixed inserted, and the clothes enter Canada duty free.

Therefore, it is extremely important that the government provide the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency with the means to monitor the rules of origin and to conduct investigations. Currently, however, it does not have the resources. The measly $5 million currently set out in the estimates will not allow the agency to act, given the complexity of the situation. Clearly, it is extremely complex. The people committing such falsification are skilled. Consequently, measures must be taken to oversee the rules of origin.

Let us hope that the government is serious when it says it is concerned about the future of these industries in Canada and Quebec and that it will take steps to ensure that the rules are respected, which is not always the case.

I am always shocked and surprised to see that Canada, particularly under this government, has earned an international reputation for being extremely naive when it comes to international trade. The former international trade minister, our resident optimist, did not help to increase awareness that people want to play with the rules of origin.

We are about the only ones who play by the rules. Everyone else uses all the tools at their disposal to bypass the rules. Canada is the only country to drastically reduce its agricultural subsidies, and open its borders without providing any help to its industries restructure and its workers retrain.

We can understand how these workers, entrepreneurs and communities would be concerned about these customs tariffs continuing to be lifted. Let us not forget that these tariffs were lifted a number of years ago.

This means that commitments more serious than those announced are in order. What good will $60 million over three years do? For example, in the softwood lumber issue, the government's aid package was totally inadequate. It was totally useless. We called for a second phase but, again, the same former international trade minister said that this second phase would be implemented in due course. The Bloc Quebecois has been calling for it for two years, and there is still nothing for the workers.

If hon. members follow what is going on in Quebec, they are aware that in recent days seasonal workers, more specifically in the North Shore region, have blocked highway 138 to show their discontent with the government's lack of action, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister.

In June of last year, the Prime Minister travelled to that region and boasted that he would support the Sans-chemise coalition, representing groups of unemployed workers, unions as well as a number of social groups. The Bloc Quebecois supports that coalition. The Prime Minister told these people that he had heard them and action would be taken.

The budget speech will be delivered this afternoon. I am anxious to see what kind of action will be taken on this issue. I am sure there will be none.

Since there is still talk of providing assistance to industries threatened by the opening up of markets, there is form of assistance we have been requesting for a very long time, which the government has not yet agreed to, and that is an older worker assistance program

For example, when a business in the apparel, textile or any other sector invests heavily in technology or equipment upgrades in order to compete, often not a single job is created to maintain its activities or increase its production. Sometime even, it must cut jobs. In an attrition process, a company could ask workers over the age of 55 who agree—instead of upgrading or learning new skills—to take immediate retirement under an older worker assistance program, which would bridge the gap until they are eligible for pension. This used to exist.

When I was at the Confédération des syndicats nationaux, many industries took advantage of a similar program. I remember, for example, a similar program at Marine Industries, as well as in the asbestos industry. It helped to humanize reorganizations and structural changes. One of the first things that the Liberal government did when it came to power was put an end to the program for older workers adjustment.

Consequently, if we are serious about wanting to help not only industries, but also those who make their living from these industries, it is essential to implement an older worker assistance program. Also, the eligibility rules and benefit levels under the employment insurance program need to be changed.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done. Perhaps we fiscal measures should be identified to encourage investment in these industries. For example, I am thinking of a measure that already exists. Members will doubtless smile. There is already a similar measure in marine construction, a sector with which our current Prime Minister is very familiar, in the environmental sector, as well as in a number of other sectors considered strategic for Canada's future. This is sometimes the case, and it may unfortunately not be used often enough.

There is an accelerated capital cost allowance program for these industries. This program could be expanded to include sectors threatened by foreign competition and the opening of our borders. This would show entrepreneurs and investors who take risks that the federal government recognizes the risks they are taking by allowing them to spread capital costs over three, four, five or six years, depending on the reality in each sector, rather than on the current rule.

These are things that must be looked into. But we must have a forum for discussing them. That said, we have asked the Standing Committee on Finance to put these items on the agenda after hearing the evidence from representatives of the apparel sector in particular.

I will tell the House one last anecdote. Did the hon. members know that a manufacturer in Bangladesh who imports his fabrics from China and makes a garment—without breaking any rules—can ship that garment to Canada with no tariff? But a Quebec or Canadian manufacturer who buys the same fabrics in China will have to pay a 19% tax on those fabrics on entry. There is something wrong with that. We are putting our own clothing sector at a disadvantage relative to foreign competition.

I want the rules of the game—as I have already said—to be the same for everyone. When I spoke about the “optimism” of the federal government with respect to international rules, that is one example. Not only do we open up our market, and that is something I agree completely with, but we also penalize our manufacturers in Quebec and Canada. That is not right. We must look into it. Since I have no confidence in the government, I want the Standing Committee on Finance to look into this state of affairs.

I will close by saying that another way to help our industry develop would be to ensure that basic rights, human rights and labour rights, are respected in those countries. Canada would be well advised to sign the International Labour Organization's conventions—something it has not done. In fact, Canada has not signed the conventions on child labour, forced labour, freedom of association or collective bargaining. In that way we can ensure that the workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh will be able to form unions, organize, negotiate good working conditions and benefit from the opening up of markets.

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11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the comments of my colleague and the concerns that he has expressed about the bill. I have two overriding concerns.

I am concerned about the haste with which the bill has been brought forward. This is not to suggest a lack of compassion on my part or on the part of my colleagues who have expressed concern about the bill for third world countries that rely on trade with Canada and with other developed nations as they attempt to develop their economies.

My concern lies with what I see as a growing trend by Canadian corporations to off-source supply from low wage third world countries and the attempt to try to coerce Canadian workers into accepting less than what I would think would be necessary wage and pension entitlements to survive in the society in which we live.

We can take the bill at face value, say we have been living with it for 10 years and that is all find and good, or we can look beyond that and say it is fine to continue with the bill, but what action has the government taken to address the growing offshore sourcing of products which traditionally have been manufactured in Canada.

Does my friend have any comments on that and is he also concerned by those issues that bother me?

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11:30 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I think there is considerable concern at the moment that China, now an active participant in the World Trade Organization, seems to have become the world's factory floor, as I have heard it called. So, there are some very legitimate concerns about this threat.

It seems to me that the Canadian government has tools at its disposal that it is not using. I will tell you about an entrepreneur in Drummondville, in the riding of my colleague from Drummond, with whom I have discussed this. He is a manufacturer of paper bags. His competition is a Chinese manufacturer of the same kind of bags. Internationally, the cost of raw material, glue, and everything it takes to produce paper, are excessive; in other words, it costs him more to produce the bags than what he can sell them for.

Obviously, this is a case of dumping. It is extremely difficult at present, with the absence of political will, to enforce the existing rules. There is nothing forcing the federal government to accept obvious cases of dumping, of which there are numerous examples, in sectors such as bicycles and skates. If the rules on dumping were tightened up, and properly applied, and if the proper tools were in place, we could partially resolve the problem.

There is also social dumping, and the Canadian government is turning a blind eye to this. When, for example, textiles or carpets produced by child labour enter the country, we are not obliged to accept them. This is contrary to the conventions of the International Labour Organization. When we know that goods are produced by forced labour, by Chinese prisoners, which is also contrary to ILO conventions, we are not obliged to accept them.

But since Canada is not a signatory to most of the ILO conventions, it is not in a good position to lecture anyone else. If it did sign these conventions and take steps to enforce them, we would not longer be faced with this problem of social dumping, and these countries would be far less attractive to multinationals, because people would be able to have their rights respected.

Of course it would not be at the same level. We are not asking that the minimum wage in Mexico, Bangladesh or China be the same as the minimum wage in Canada. We are not asking that health and safety standards be at the same level. However, we are asking that there be a minimum wage and health and safety standards and that people be able to organize to assert their rights. Eventually, multinationals might find that it is not really worth going to countries where people are able to have their rights respected.

In tackling economic, commercial and social dumping, it seems we have two good ways for fighting the harmful effects of the current unfair competition, while keeping our markets open. I think the hon. member agrees that we want to keep our markets open. Canada and Quebec are trading nations; we have no interest in closing our borders. Nor, however, do we have any interest in accepting the uncontrolled free trade that exists now.

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11:35 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I feel compelled to intervene on what was first raised in the closing remarks of my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois and the question from the member from the Conservative caucus.

Each in their own way pointed out what I and other New Democrats in the House have been trying to point out for a long time about the current nature of the corporate globalization model which enables people to shop around globally for the lowest possible labour standards or the lowest wages.

For years we have been asking that at the WTO and in other international and regional trade agreements that there be a recognition and enforcement of core labour standards. We have not had much support in that request. As the member for the Bloc Quebecois said, it is not a question of imposing Canada's minimum wage on Mexico or Cambodia. It is not a question of imposing the Canada Labour Code, although I am not sure it is as good as we think it is because recently it was of absolutely no help to Canadian workers in the context of the CN rail strike where Americans were brought in.

Everything depends on political will. We used to say the Soviet Union had a great constitution but nobody cared about it, nobody enforced it. We have many laws like that here in Canada, particularly labour laws.

I recall in 1994 when the NDP did not have party status in the House, moving amendments to the WTO implementing legislation. We were calling on the House to recognize core labour standards, and moving amendments that had to do with prohibiting the import of goods into Canada that were produced through child labour or slave labour. That was a very lonely experience.

I welcome the kind of comments that I just heard. This is the kind of argument that was made by some entrepreneurs before the committee. They said that if the tariff on fabric was not removed, it would not hurt them because in the current economy all they had to do was make it somewhere else. They would still make money, and maybe even more money.

These tariffs were designed when Canadian manufacturers, Mexican manufacturers, Chinese manufacturers, or whomever, were all separate companies. Now, those manufacturers might all be owned by the same people or the same company. Because of the global free trade economy that we have, we have a whole set of old rules that do not work in the new context, and yet we keep having debates in the House as if the world has not changed on us.

I invite the member to comment. I will be speaking next so I will probably have some time to elaborate on this point.

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11:40 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is extremely important to understand that in wanting basic labour rights to be respected, we are not asking that the approach be the same everywhere. I will give an example.

Generally speaking, union certification and freedom of association are respected in Canada. Of course, this is not always the case. The member is right. In some cases, the spirit of the law is not upheld. I will give the example of the Government of Quebec, which just overturned a labour tribunal decision allowing home day care educators to form a union. However, as a general rule, this is respected.

In Europe, this is respected using a different approach. Here, we have the Rand formula, in Europe they have other formulas, but our union rights are generally respected. That is what we want all over the world. That is the globalization of solidarity.

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11:40 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to participating in this debate. It is an opportunity to raise a whole number of issues that do not get aired often enough in the House, or certainly not in any kind of focused or informed way. I want to pick up on some of the things that have already come up today.

First, I want to say that we support the bill. However, we support it with some reluctance because, as so many people have indicated, this is something that was developed at some point in order to create opportunities for developing countries to be able to penetrate our markets and create jobs in the third world. That is a good thing, and we have supported that.

It goes back to the north-south dialogue. I remember debates in the eighties about trying to create opportunities for third world countries through tariff reduction. However, that was before we had the kind of globalized economy that we have today. Now, we have the rather perverse effect that when we lower tariff barriers, for example, clothing coming into this country, we may not be creating opportunities for businesses in that country. We might actually be creating opportunities for our own business people to be able to go to those other countries and exploit lower labour standards and lower wages. Sometimes we have policies that address situations that are no longer quite the way they were when those policies were first created.

As I pointed out in a question and comment earlier, we still have tariffs on textiles and fabric, for which there are no domestic competitors. Again, I want to raise the example that was raised in committee by Mr. Silver from Winnipeg. He pointed out that he used a lot of denim fabric and according to Mr. Silver, the last remaining denim plant in Canada was scheduled to close. He was arguing, why should there continue to be a tariff on denim if there was no domestic production of denim?

Similar to the argument made by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, why should we have a situation in which manufacturers in Canada are virtually forced to make something somewhere else? They could import the fabric into the other country, whether it is Mexico or wherever it happens to be, make it there and then sell it into Canada duty free. However, they cannot import that fabric into Canada and make that product here. We cannot have the value added here. We cannot have the Canadian jobs here.

In the case of the garment industry, we cannot do what the garment industry has done arguably so well over the years which is not only to create jobs but in particular to assist new Canadians. It becomes an entry point for them into the labour market, into the workplace and actually into Canadian society.

If the government fails to act, if it fails to eliminate tariffs on input for which there is no domestic competition, why would the government be hesitating to do this? I do not understand it. Normally I can point to some kind of interest that is behind the behaviour of a Liberal government, but in this case, I have to chalk it up to inertia or stupidity or something, because there does not seem to be any corporate interest involved here. Perhaps there is and I am just missing it.

In any event, the minister said, when he was talking in the House, that this needs to be discussed further, that it is a complex issue that the interests of the apparel industry and the textile industry do not quite mesh and we need further discussions. Well, what is there to discuss? If something is not being made in Canada and it is needed by Canadian manufacturers in order to keep on manufacturing that particular product in Canada, then what is the point of keeping that tariff on, particularly when we are on our feet being self-righteous about lowering tariffs.

That fabric would continue to be made where it is made but, instead of having value added in Mexico, it would have value added in Canada. What is the matter with that? We are for lowering tariffs and we are for value added. These are the two things that we hear rhetoric about all the time. It seems to me we can have them both.

I say to the government, there may be things that need to be discussed. There may be things that need to be addressed in the longer term and there may need to be more studies. But when it comes to certain inputs, in this case I have mentioned denim, if there is no longer denim made in Canada, then why not immediately eliminate the tariff on denim so that we do not put a manufacturer, like Mr. Silver in Winnipeg, in the position where he feels that he has to move even more jobs offshore than he already has.

As he says, it will not hurt him. He will continue to make money. He will continue to be a successful businessman. However, the jobs that have traditionally been provided in Winnipeg, in particular for new Canadians, will disappear. I urge the government to abandon this position. That is something that needs more discussion.

It seems to me that there could be much faster action on this. In fact, Western Glove Works has initiated a so-called fast track submission to the CITT, requesting tariff relief on imported denim due to the fact that effective this spring the last remaining denim plant in Canada is scheduled to close.

There is a process already in place. It seems to me that if the government wanted to show good faith on this issue and show that it understood the concerns of the people in the industry, this is one particular item on which it could move. The Canadian Apparel Federation is concerned not just about denim, obviously. This was just an example. It is concerned about other things as well.

I have a letter from the Canadian Apparel Federation, dated March 16, to Mr. Roy Cullen, the chairman of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, in which it makes it very clear that if the government wants to pass this particular bill, as it obviously does, there are other things that need to be done to address the concerns of the Canadian apparel industry.

I am tempted to read the letter into the record and would call the attention of the government to this letter because I know that sometimes letters sit in files on government desks and do not ever seem to get read. I would urge the minister and others on the Liberal side to read this letter from the Canadian Apparel Federation, signed by Elliot Lifson, the president. They would see therein the kinds of things that the Canadian Apparel Federation feels that the government should do. It says:

During the hearing, [referring, of course, to the committee hearing] several concerns were raised about the apparent complexity of removing duties on textile imports. The reality is quite the opposite: It remains the prerogative of the Minister of Finance to amend the Customs Tariff as appropriate. No legislation or regulatory amendment is needed to implement these measures. As was pointed out repeatedly during our appearance before the Committee, the domestic production of textiles used by the apparel industry is non-existent in many cases, or rapidly diminishing. Many Canadian apparel manufacturers cannot source their fabric and other raw materials domestically. This is demonstrated by the high level of imported raw materials used by our industry. In previous submissions to the Department of Finance we have sought tariff relief for apparel end-uses alone, to ensure that textile manufacturers which supply other industries would not be adversely affected. This could be easily implemented, and I refer to my letter to Minister of State Paradis dated February 10th, 2004.

That is another letter I would encourage government members to get a hold of and read.

It seems to me that where there is no domestic competition, the government should move rapidly, rather than slowly or not at all, to eliminate these tariffs.

I also want to pick up on the point that was raised in the final moments of the presentation by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, and that has to do with labour standards.

That is the other thing. It is fine to reduce tariffs and talk about a level playing field, but if you do not have a level playing field when it comes to labour standards, and I am talking about core labour standards here, then there is not a level playing field at all. All there is is an opportunity for exploitation.

If Canadian workers are being asked to compete with workers in other countries who cannot organize a union without fearing for their lives, without fearing that they will end up in the river or that there will be a knock on the door in the middle of the night, which is bad enough but not as bad as being murdered, and they lose their job and their livelihood, is this a level playing field? By what feat of the right-wing imagination do people suggest that it is somehow a level playing field when Canadian workers are being asked to compete with workers in other countries who do not have these basic rights?

I want to stress that we are talking about basic rights. As I said before, we are not talking about imposing the Canada Labour Code or imposing a global minimum wage. We are talking about the ability of people to defend themselves, to organize collectively, to associate freely and to have laws in their own country that protect children from child labour and which also addresses the whole question of slave labour.

We do not have that. The WTO does not even want to talk about labour standards. Unfortunately, some of the very third world countries that I would have thought might have been interested in talking about labour standards are not willing to talk about labour standards themselves.

At one point perhaps industries in the first world would have been interested in core labour standards in the third world because that would have been unfair competition. When there is a globalized economy pursuant to the concerns raised by my colleague from the Conservative Party, that is not unfair competition any more. That is just another opportunity.

If we have unfair competition in China or some other country where there are no core labour standards and where trade unions are persecuted and where wages are abysmally low, that is not unfair competition any more. We will simply move our plant there. We will cut a deal with the Chinese government.

China is a country in which people now have the worst of all possible worlds. They have a one party socialist state with a capitalist economy. Those people really have it bad. They have the worst aspects of both systems. They have the caricature of both systems. They have the one party communist state and they have a capitalist economy where they can be worked over twice, by the state and the market.

People seem to think this is great. I do not, but a lot of people seem to think this is great, that things are really happening in China.

As I said when I spoke to second reading of the bill, what if everything could be made in China for dirt poor wages? Is that the globalization dream? All the entrepreneurs in the western world would be sitting there raking in the money because they did a fifty-fifty partnership with the Chinese government to produce something here and produce something there. The government is involved in almost everything there. The government takes its share. They have private-public partnerships down to a science there. It is a little different from what we are talking about here when people talk about it.

I am asking people to consider exactly the reality of what is happening on the ground. I am asking them to consider what is happening to workers as a result of what far too many people in our judgment have accepted as just the way it is with respect to the globalized economy.

It is a perverse moral hierarchy indeed when the rights of investors are protected in free trade agreements, whether they be regional free trade agreements such as NAFTA, or global free trade agreements such as the WTO, and the rights of workers are not only not enforced, they cannot be mentioned. It is a victory if they can get a reference to labour standards in the preamble to the agreement. That is a victory.

There is something wrong with this. What is even more wrong is the fact that this is not regarded as a serious problem by the government. It is not regarded as a serious moral or political problem by the Liberals.

I have been to most of the WTO ministerial meetings over the years, beginning with the first one in Singapore, then Geneva, Seattle, and most recently in Cancun. I missed the one in Doha. The Canadian government is a constant embarrassment when it comes to the whole question of labour standards.

People will know that I am not generally a great fan of the American administration, particularly the current one, but the one before with President Bill Clinton made speeches to the WTO. Perhaps he was only putting us on and maybe he was just feeling our pain, but at least he was willing to acknowledge that there was a problem with respect to labour standards, but the Canadian spokespersons would not. It has always been a source of great embarrassment and frustration to me that the Liberals have been so timid in defending the rights of workers around the world.

In conclusion, we support the bill but we see it as just an extension of an existing policy. To not extend it would obviously be an affront to the desire we have to continue policies which create openings for third world countries to penetrate our own market. On the other hand, if we continue to ignore the question of labour standards and the way in which this perverts our best intentions, assuming that the government has good intentions, and if we continue to ignore the fact that there is a need now to eliminate tariffs on fabric and other inputs particularly in the apparel industry for which there are no domestic competitors, then the government will stand accused and convicted of acting in a way that destroys Canadian jobs needlessly.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me in listening to the debate today that a lot of talk about protectionism is starting to creep into the discussion about the bill. It seems to me that the member wants to have his cake and eat it too.

At the same time that he is arguing for better working conditions and better wages for people in third world countries, he wants to cut them out of free trade by applying protectionism here. It is not as much from his speech but certainly from the speech of the Bloc member before him, trying to protect our industries from outside competition.

I will give an example. It is well known and plenty of studies have shown that countries with the most free trading policies have the highest standards of living for their people and the best working conditions. We can see it ourselves in China. When I first visited China in the late 1970s, people lived in abysmal conditions. Shanghai was a horrible place. Except for the few little tourist areas that were kept nice, everything else was really awful.

Shanghai today is a modern bustling city with good working conditions for people. The standard of living has improved out of sight because China now trades freely with the world. Sure, that has meant some adjustments in our country because inefficient industries that we used to run have gone out of business.

One example relates to what the member was just saying about the textile industry. We have a tariff in place to protect manufacturers of denim who do not even exist any more because the tariff never prevented them from going out of business in the first place. It was a misguided idea to have the tariff in the first place.

The reality of free trading and world trade is that we cannot stop the progression or the balancing of trade so that the countries that are best skilled at doing things do those things.

Canada leads the world with Northern Telecom. We provide the telecom equipment for the world. We set the standard for it. The BlackBerry, or the BlueBerry as it is now called, is another innovation. There is McCain Foods as well. We have our share of companies that dominate the market because they do things really well. It disturbs me to hear talk about the idea that we should start getting protectionist again.

I will give another example. In Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, there used to be a dreadful, terrible and disgusting shantytown. Because of the free trade agreement, there are now large American companies that have established beautiful and big industries with parklands. They have cleaned up all the streams and creeks that were full of--

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The Deputy Speaker

Order. I hesitate to interrupt but I would hope that we might be able to dispense with other communications within the chamber during the proceedings of the House. Members can certainly take them into the lobby, I understand that, but I do not think we should sustain that practice within the chamber.

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Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was just giving the example across the border from El Paso where the living conditions and working conditions for Mexican workers have been improved a thousand-fold. The streams that were once full of garbage and pollution have been cleaned up. There are beautiful parklands. There are running tracks for the workers. There are tennis courts. There are gymnasiums that they never had before. The opportunity for advancement and improvement of their living conditions is amazing.

If we go a little further south to Chihuahua, that city is being rejuvenated because of free trade. Wal-Mart is there, which probably will upset the member, but it has generated jobs for people there. The local Mexicans can be seen shopping there for things they could not buy before. Free trade really helps.

This is really a comment more than a question. It really disturbs me to see people arguing to shut these third world countries out of a free trading environment that really truly improves the conditions for the workers.

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Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the hon. member was listening, or he only hears what he wants to hear, because I was not arguing that anybody be shut out. I was just saying that the terms for being in ought to be that people can try to organize a union in their country without breaking the law, without being persecuted, without ending up in the river, and without losing their jobs.

I am not talking about trying to get rid of competition. I am talking about unfair competition. Unless the member wants to maintain that there is no such thing as unfair competition, that whatever people do in order to get an edge on their competitor is okay, and that constitutes efficiency and that is always the definition of efficiency, whatever works, whatever gives one an edge in the market, then he and I just live in different moral universes.

Unfair competition is wrong. We ought to be able to get up here and make an argument about what we think constitutes unfair competition without being told that somehow we want to shut the third world out of the global economy. That is not what I am talking about at all. What I am talking about is having a global economy in which everybody respects core labour standards, the kinds of things that people everywhere in this country have said for years that they apparently uphold, except when it comes to anywhere else, when it is not in the interests of certain corporate owners, or when it can be described as inefficient.

The member said that plants have closed down in Canada because they were inefficient. They were not inefficient. Maybe there are some plants that closed down because they were inefficient, but a lot of plants have closed down because the inefficient thing that they did was that they paid people a decent living wage. That was the inefficiency. I will not stand for a description of paying people the absolute minimum as what constitutes efficiency. What the member calls efficiency, I call exploitation and I always will.

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12:05 p.m.


Yves Rocheleau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the comments of the NDP member. I also listened with the same interest to the remarks made by the hon. member for Joliette. My colleague referred to the naivety and “jovialism” of the former federal international trade minister when dealing with the international community. For example, the minister did not demand higher tariffs for underdeveloped countries, as one would have hoped, and he also basically excluded all forms of protectionism, while our western competitors maintain some protectionist measures.

I wonder if the NDP member could comment on the statement made by the hon. member for Joliette, to the effect that the former international trade minister showed naivety and even “jovialism” in his attitude.

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12:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not exactly sure what the member is referring to in terms of the former minister of international trade, but he speaks of naivety. I never know whether it is naivety on the part of the government when it comes to a lot of these issues or whether it is a wilful blindness on its part as to what is really going on in the global economy.

I have seen it so often that there is a kind of feigned innocence with respect to how the global economy works. We see it not just from the Minister of International Trade but also from the member from the Conservative Party who just spoke, that somehow everything is reduced to a question of efficiency and competition, as if there is never anything like exploitation and ethics; what is right and wrong. It is always reduced to some sort of economic language which conceals rather than reveals the reality of what is going on.

He is the only person I have ever seen get up and basically defend the Maquiladora corridor and say that things are coming up roses there for Mexican workers, that they have tennis courts. I guess we read different literature because from what I hear it is terrible there, particularly for Mexican woman.

Again, it is a naivety on the part of the government with respect to free trade and also on the part of others.

I am sorry if I am not fully answering the member's question but I think there is a lot of wilful naivety and blindness. In the Bible they talk about ears that will not hear and eyes that will not see. When it comes to corporate globalization there are a lot of eyes that will not see and ears that will not hear just exactly what is going on as a result of corporate globalization.

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12:05 p.m.


Janko Peric Liberal Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Winnipeg—Transcona on his very good remarks. I believe that we as parliamentarians have to be concerned about protecting Canadian jobs. At the same time we must ensure that we minimize the exploitation of the labour force in third world countries by multinationals.

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12:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member's point is well taken. The whole question of outsourcing of jobs is becoming an issue in the upcoming American election. It will be interesting to see how that debate pans out in the United States.

I take the hon. member's point as a glimmer of hope on the government back benches that they understand what I am actually talking about because one would never get that idea from listening to the answers that I have received over the years from people on the front benches.