Mr. Speaker, I want to take the time to acknowledge the ruling that you have just made. For that reason, of course, the position of the government is upheld, and indeed, this is a matter that would require an expenditure issue, a money bill. Therefore, the bill will not go beyond this one hour of debate.
At the same time I want to recognize my colleague, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, who is also the member of Parliament for Sydney—Victoria. I have been with him for some time here and I know that he has been extremely able in terms of opening new markets and opportunities for Canadian business. His work, often done in other fields and jurisdictions, has indeed borne much fruit for labourers, individuals and small companies right across this country. I think Parliament owes him a very strong vote of thanks for the work he has done.
I am pleased to take part in today's debate on Bill C-364, which is, as you have stated, an act to provide compensation to Canadian industry associations and exporters who incur financial losses as a result of unjustified restrictive trade actions by foreign governments which are signatories to trade agreements involving Canadian products.
I would also like to use my time to respond to some of the statements already made by certain opposition members during the first hour of debate on the bill. As we know, the bill would provide compensation to Canadian industry associations and exporters that incur financial losses as a result of unjustified restrictive trade actions by foreign governments which are signatories to trade agreements with Canada.
On that point, I am obviously very pleased with the initiative by the government, the Minister of Trade and the Prime Minister on the question of softwood lumber. It would appear that our plotting has certainly been very successful and will continue to be so.
Mr. Speaker, I speak with some certainty in saying that you understand this industry perhaps better than most in Parliament.
It is for those reasons that this is indeed good news for that sector and for trade.
As we know, there are two components of the bill. The first would require the federal government to defray legal expenses incurred by the private sector in instances where a foreign state restricts Canadian exports in a manner that is found to contravene any bilateral or multilateral agreement. The second component proposes that the government provide loan guarantees to cover deposits, sureties or bonds that may be required of Canadian exporters by the foreign state, pending the final determination of a tribunal.
As I have mentioned, my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, stated during the first hour of debate on October 19 that the federal government appreciates the concerns relating to legal costs associated with the defence of Canadian interests in these trade disputes. The Government of Canada understands that costs associated with the defence of trade cases, particularly legal expenses, are often significant.
The complexities of issues entrenched in trade disputes, along with the number of parties involved in such cases, are all factors that can contribute inexorably to increased legal costs. There should be no doubt that this government is unequivocally committed to representing and actively defending Canadian interests in all and any international trade fora. We do so every day.
We devote considerable financial and human resources to fostering a domestic environment conducive to the development and maintenance of consultative domestic networks. These networks allow stakeholders a voice in the determination of the Canadian response to unjustifiable trade restrictions by foreign governments and we cannot and should not underestimate the valuable work and role of Canadian representatives abroad in the defence of our national Canadian trade interests.
I can assure members that Canadian trade officials in our embassies and missions abroad work very hard to represent trade interests. Targeted advocacy campaigns and meeting with foreign decision makers, the business community and local media are just some of the daily tasks executed by our representatives abroad. Their objective is clear: to advocate and foster positions favourable to Canada.
I would like now to respond to some of the statements made by my hon. colleagues across the floor when this issue was debated in October. I was somewhat surprised when the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca stated that it was about time that the federal government “spent some attention on softwood lumber and other issues of trade dispute”. As was mentioned earlier, this issue is now well on its way to being resolved as a result of what the government has done.
By our actions, we have made it crystal clear that the softwood lumber dispute is a top priority for the government. The Government of Canada is exploring every possible option with a view to resolving the dispute, including litigation, high level political intervention and advocacy.
As the hon. member knows, the Prime Minister has raised the issue with President Bush at every opportunity, including most recently on November 18 during the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, APEC, in Busan, Korea.
We certainly understand and are very sympathetic to the adverse impact of U.S. duties on Canadian companies, workers and communities. This is why the Government of Canada is committed to continue working with our industry and the provinces to press the United States to live up to its trade obligations.
This collaborative work is also done on behalf of other Canadian industries that are subject to unjustified restrictive trade measures. For example, when the United States initiated trade investigations against Canadian exports of wheat or some live swine, or when the United States blocked Canadian exports of beef, the government took action.
To say, then, that the government has “ignored” Canadian stakeholders involved in trade disputes would obviously be wrong. In fact, it would be the exact opposite.
I do indeed agree with the hon. member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca when he states that Canada is a trading nation. I could not agree more with him when he states that “the Canadian government has a clear duty...to take every step available in law to protect our export industries and our trade”.
We have done so and this government will continue to do so. However, the hon. member and other members of the opposition parties seem to send contradictory messages when discussing the bill. On the one hand, the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca has stated that “legal bills to date...are $350 million and are escalating by $100 million a year”. Then he stated that Bill C-364 “...likely will not cost the taxpayers any money at all, either in the short term or the long term”. Clearly with your ruling today, Mr. Speaker, I think that is certainly put to rest.
Unless I have misread Bill C-364, it is the hon. member's expectation that the bill would cover at least part of the legal costs incurred by the Canadian softwood lumber industry.
Of course, I am not trying here to downgrade the importance of the backdrop of Bill C-364, nor am I attempting to diminish the concerns associated with legal expenses in these kinds of trade disputes. The federal government also incurs legal expenses, but we believe that there are more effective and efficient ways to assist industries involved in trade disputes.
One example is the recently announced CAN-Trade initiative, in which the government reaffirmed its commitment to fostering jobs, economic growth and sustainable prosperity.
There are four major thrusts to this initiative. First is to strengthen and expand Canada's bilateral and multilateral framework and advocacy efforts. This will include promoting a successful completion of the Doha negotiations of the World Trade Organization, defending Canadian rights through NAFTA and the WTO, and developing, of course, new trade and investment policy tools and instruments.
The CAN-Trade initiative is about being aggressive and proactive with respect to targeted advocacy work in our new key and emerging markets. To this end, an additional $12 million is proposed to broaden Canada's advocacy efforts in key markets, including through activities aimed at establishing institutional linkages and joint research in support of Canada's trade and economic interests.
International trade is a priority to the government and we continue to demonstrate this by our actions.
The federal government works with all Canadian interested stakeholders, both in Canada and abroad, toward a strong and unified position.
Are there unexpected delays in trade disputes? Yes.
Would we like to see the dispute settlement process work in a more timely fashion? Of course.
This is precisely why senior officials of all three NAFTA countries are discussing ways to improve the functioning of chapter 19.
Members may recall that the Prime Minister made Canada's concerns regarding this issue clear to President Bush during the president's visit in November 2004.
Let me assure this House, members and the Canadian public that the government will continue to work diligently and responsibly in defending Canadian trade interests involved in trade disputes.
Finally, the Government of Canada will continue to cooperate with domestic stakeholders toward strong and unified positions and will continue to be an active player within NAFTA and the WTO to clarify and improve the rules governing all international trade.