Mr. Speaker, I too want to thank my colleague from Montcalm and my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for bringing forth again an issue that is so important, especially for me.
As you surely know, this is not the first time that I rise in this House to speak to this issue that affects my riding. There are about 1,400 supply managed farms in the Centre-du-Québec region and about 760 in the Estrie region. These are the two regions that border my riding of Richmond—Arthabaska.
In the Arthabaska RCM, there are 397 dairy, poultry and egg farms. There are 137 supply managed farms in the Val-Saint-François RCM and 90 in the Asbestos RCM. All this to say that this is an important issue in my area. We hope that the government and the other parties in the House will feel the same and support Motion M-163.
A good part of my local platform—and I was the only candidate in my riding to have one—dealt with agriculture, and much of that addressed supply management.
We met with SM5 people during the election campaign and everyone was quick to sign the SM5, with the exception of the Liberal candidate, who took some persuading but eventually did so also. It must be kept in mind, moreover, that all party leaders here now signed it during the 2004 election campaign.
Members of all parties, Conservatives, NDP and Liberals—no need to add the Bloc Québécois, since our leader is well informed on this—need to remember that commitment that they signed on during the 2004 election campaign. We hope that they will respect that commitment by supporting Motion M-163.
In my platform, I pointed out the vital importance of agriculture to my riding. For example, the Arthabaska RCM is the top-ranking milk and cattle producer in Quebec. We are renowned for the quality of our dairy production and a number of exceptional cheeses are made in our region. I am sure my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant will back me up on that, being a connoisseur of goat's milk and other types of cheeses.
In recent months, agricultural producers have been in trouble, not only as far as mad cow is concerned, but also supply management and access to markets. These are all matters of concern to people in the agricultural community, not just in my area, but throughout Quebec and even in the rest of Canada.
Much of what is produced in my region is governed by supply management, milk, chicken and eggs for example. In fact, dairy products account for 50% of the entire agricultural production of central Quebec, so supply management is vital to these farmers.
So that hon. members will have a proper understanding of what this is all about, I will just give a quick overview of supply management. It has three basic components: limiting production through a quota system, regulating prices, and maintaining the balance between supply and demand by keeping the borders closed through the imposition of high import duties on poultry, eggs and dairy products.
I should make it clear that it is essential that the three elements co-exist; if one falls, the whole system crumbles. This is what we have been fearing for some time. In 2003, we nearly ran into difficulty at Cancun. We did have problems, but fortunately the supply management system survived. It is, however, still in a precarious position.
The benefits of the supply management system are twofold in that it provides a decent income to our producers, while not creating distortions on world markets. As I said a moment ago, the federal Liberals have been claiming for years to support supply management. However, whenever that system was challenged, the government continued to undermine it.
Earlier, my eminent colleague, the hon. member for Joliette, referred to butter oil. Therefore, I will not elaborate, but I will say that this is just one example. There is also the example of cheese sticks, regarding which the member for Joliette also made representations, at the time, to the former Minister of International Trade, who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This was an endless saga, as is the case whenever the government yields to lobbies that leave Quebec dairy producers to fend for themselves, as was the case then.
As regards butter oil, I want to point out that the federal government decided that this type of oil was not a dairy product, thus opening the border to imports. Over a five year period, between 1997 and 2002, these imports increased by 557%. This is no joke. It represents a loss of half a billion dollars for Quebec dairy producers.
I read the papers this morning, as every member of Parliament should, and I saw that this issue is still being reported today, April 15, 2005, in the daily La Presse :
—Quebec dairy producers...want to slow down the massive entry into Canada of dairy ingredients that come primarily from European countries.
These milk substitutes are increasingly replacing milk and cream in the manufacture, among other products, of cheese and ice cream. According to the president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, Marcel Groleau, this substitution results in an annual loss of $70 million for Quebec milk producers.
The federation received the support of Quebec's agriculture minister, Yvon Vallières, who is also the MLA for Richmond, in my riding. He recognized that import controls on butter oil blends can be easily bypassed by importing a product containing 40% butter oil and 51% sugar. Here is what Minister Vallières said on this subject, and I quote:
This product is imported duty free into Canada, but if the dairy content was 1% higher, a 212% duty would apply.
We defend supply management in Quebec, but we expect the federal government to do the same, which, unfortunately, is not the case. This is the reason why we are debating Motion M-163 in the House today. We hope that, when it is time to vote, members will understand why we brought forward this motion.
All this information regarding the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec found its way into the paper today because that organization held its annual general meeting yesterday and the day before. You can be sure that supply management was discussed at that meeting.
In conclusion, producers have asked the Canadian government to use the rules provided in trade agreements to restrict imports of these ingredients into the country. They have done so by invoking section 28 in particular of the WTO agreement that deals with this. In invoking this section, Canada could establish new tariff quotas that would make it possible to maintain these imports at the current level and to increase them by a maximum of 10%. In the press release of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec, its president, Mr. Marcel Groleau, says:
We are asking the Canadian government to use the right that the WTO has granted it and to immediately invoke section 28 to limit the damage. As a champion of supply management, it must do so without delay. This is urgent!
It is not I who is saying this, it is the president of the Fédération des producteurs de lait du Québec himself who says so, and I think that he knows quite a lot about the issue.
He concluded by saying, “It must put an end to the erosion before irreparable damage is done”.
I think we just heard someone who, having worked for so long in this sector, knows what he is talking about. We would like the government to pay urgent heed to this call.
I also dug out a very interesting study on the matter. It found that the dairy supply management system in Canada is a good model that needs to be maintained. While the World Trade Organization agriculture negotiations are threatening the foundation of this system, the study shows that the system benefits farmers just as much as consumers and the government. The study was conducted by Daniel Mercier-Gouin, director of Groupe de recherche en économie et politique agricole, GREPA, and professor of agri-food economics and consumer sciences at Laval.
In his study, Mr. Gouin makes four observations. I will list them. First, he observes that the prices paid to Canadian farmers for milk are stable and higher than the prices paid in the other countries in the study. Second, he observes that the favourable and stable prices paid to Canadian dairy farmers do not necessarily mean an increase in the price of milk for the consumer. On the contrary, the three countries with supply management, Canada, France and the Netherlands, saw the lowest increases in consumer prices between 1981 and 2002, the period under review.
Third, the researcher points out that the countries heading toward deregulation of their dairy economy—New Zealand and Australia—are those where consumer prices have increased the most. They are also seeing an increase in the aggregate margin of dairy processing and distribution.
Fourth, in conclusion he shows that the incomes of Canadian farmers are better protected and that Canada is one of the countries with the lowest government subsidies.
If other studies are needed, others exist. However, I think this is quite conclusive. I invite all the parties to vote in favour of Motion M-163.