Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to participate in this debate on C-40, although the bill has little impact on Quebec and Quebec agriculture, I have to say right off. However, it allows us to look at a number of matters pertaining to agriculture and WTO negotiations.
I must say right off that we will support the principle of this bill, as it arises from a decision by the dispute settlement body of the WTO. In addition, we believe that international trade law must apply. We wish the American authorities were as vigilant as the government in this specific matter. I would point out that the WTO ruled against the American government with respect to the Byrd amendment. Since then, the U.S. government has still not budged, and we have been obliged therefore to implement a series of retaliatory measures, with the help of other countries, in order to force the Americans to move.
Obviously, we consider it entirely reasonable for the Canadian government to make the adjustments necessary pursuant to the decision by the WTO. In this context, we will support the principle.
That said, we want to hear from witnesses in committee on the financial repercussions of this bill, in order to find out the western grain producers' concerns. As I mentioned, Quebec is not involved, but it will be important for us to hear what westerners have to say.
I am rather surprised, this morning, opinions are not unanimous with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board, as I had thought. We therefore think it important for the committee to hear witnesses so the Bloc can get a clearer idea of whether to support or reject the bill. At this point, however, I repeat, we support the principle.
Having said that, while we support the principle of the bill because this legislation results from a decision of the World Trade Organization, the Bloc Québécois intends to continue to defend producers' ability to choose how they want to market their products. As hon. members know, in Quebec it is possible for producers to have mixed plans. The decision to set up these plans is made through discussions by the agricultural sector involved. When a majority of producers wish to set up a mixed plan, this plan applies to the whole sector. This seems perfectly reasonable, because it not only allows farm producers to have a better balance of power with the companies that buy their products and which, incidentally, are often multinationals, it also allows them, by negotiating as a single entity, to get better prices for their products. Moreover, this gives them some stability in terms of revenues, while also allowing processors to have access to quality products that are also safe.
Therefore, in the negotiations that are taking place at the World Trade Organization on agriculture, we must ensure that this ability to market agricultural products is protected. In this regard, we are somewhat concerned by the Liberal government's behaviour. There is this lax approach by the government and a lack of determination in its positions. There is also the fact that, sometimes—as least based on what we can read on its Website—the government is not taking very firm positions on issues such as supply management or the protection, as I was saying, of an agricultural model that we can call our own.
I want to point out to the House that the Bloc Québécois has given its support to a movement called Maé-Maé. This is the acronym for the Mouvement pour une agriculture équitable. This movement for fair agriculture caught on in Quebec with the union of agricultural producers, particularly the chapter dealing with international development, which is enjoying a great deal of success in francophone African countries.
This movement stands for a number of principles, including the capacity of individual countries to adopt an agricultural model that not only suits their needs in terms of food security but also ensures adequate incomes for farm producers, particularly those operating small or family farms.
We hope that, while acting on the WTO decision, Canada will take a much firmer stand for fair trade agriculture, that is agriculture as determined with complete autonomy by the producers in each country.
In this context, it is extremely important that the Liberal government take note of the motion unanimously passed in this House on Friday. This motion calls on the government not to agree to any concession with respect to the supply management system during the World Trade Organization negotiations. In light of this unanimous decision of the House, we would not want the government to continue to act as if no vote had been taken here. In this context, we expect the Government of Canada to raise its voice in defence of this supply management system which, as I said earlier, reflects the choices made by a number of producers in specific agricultural sectors.
We know that supply management is extremely important for the milk sector, particularly in Quebec, but also in Ontario. It also applies to table and breeder eggs as well as to poultry. I will come back to that later.
We are in favour of Bill C-40. As I indicated, since its purpose is to implement a decision of the World Trade Organization, a number of principles will have to be defended much more firmly by the Government of Canada, a Liberal government for the time being.
We know that in the United States, New Zealand and Australia, there is a real guerilla war being waged against the agricultural system in Canada and Quebec. The agricultural model used in Canada and Quebec is misunderstood and repeatedly challenged on the grounds that it violates the WTO rules. In fact, there is a similar misunderstanding among the Americans right now in relation to softwood lumber.
Interestingly enough, the WTO decision, which led to Bill C-40, does not call into question the fact that the Canadian Wheat Board is the exclusive exporter of wheat in western Canada. That is not at issue whatsoever. Other things are. Therefore, we must build on the positive points in the decision handed down by the WTO's dispute settlement body. In my opinion, this is a very clear message, which is valid for the Canadian Wheat Board, as well as other marketing boards and practices in Canada and Quebec.
In essence, three practices used to date have been ruled inconsistent with WTO policies. Canada has been asked to comply with these policies by April 1, 2005. Bill C-40, then, is very timely.
The first practice is the rail revenue cap. A cap currently limits transportation costs for local grain; there is no such cap for foreign grain. The Canada Transportation Act must therefore be amended so that foreign grain can have the same access to the rail network as Canadian grain. Consequently, the word grain will be redefined. Clause 3 (b) of the bill makes reference to this. The same cap will apply to the transportation of local and foreign grain. The WTO had considered this practice a form of export subsidy.
The second practice is grain entry authorization. Currently, the Canadian Grain Commission must allow foreign operators to store foreign grain in licensed facilities.
The World Trade Organization felt that this section gave Canadian grain an unfair advantage, thus, subsection 57( c ) of the Canada Grain Act was simply dropped.
One final aspect contested by the World Trade Organization was the authorization to mix grains. Before domestic grain could be mixed with foreign grain, authorization was needed from the Canadian Grain Commission. This was thought to be a way of hindering foreign grain import.
Thus, clauses 1 and 2 of the bill are being replaced to address what the WTO considered anti-competitive conduct, that is, requiring operators to inform the Canadian Grain Commission when there is a mix of several grains, of foreign grains and Canadian grains. Paragraph 72(1)( b ) of the Canada Grain Act was kept. It ensures that purely Canadian grain is properly labelled in order to preserve the excellent reputation of Canadian grain in international markets.
These are extremely specific changes. As I have been saying since the start, it is interesting that in this World Trade Organization decision there was no dispute over the legitimacy of collective marketing for grain. Farmers in the west can say what they want about this, but personally I think it is perfectly reasonable for farmers to form groups to sell their products collectively to processors.
Earlier, there was discussion over french fries and how there is no marketing office in the west. In Quebec there is no potato marketing office, but there is a joint plan. I can tell you, there are some intense negotiations between potato farmers and chip makers over the price of potatoes. I was the executive director of CSN when I left, and I used to provide training to potato farmers on how to achieve a strong bargaining position and how to negotiate with multinationals.
This is one thing that is done, then, and a choice Quebec producers have made. American multinationals and Canadian ones, which do more business in the west and in Ontario, fail to understand it, however.
I think it important to note that, while the Americans have often contested the role of the Canadian Wheat Board at the WTO, the organization has never found fault with it. I would like to draw members' attention to the fact the decision provides these principles are not infringed when a state trading enterprise acts on the basis of commercial considerations. I will read some passages from the decision by the WTO dispute settlement body.
First, it provides that the Canadian Wheat Board is controlled by the grain producers whose grain it markets. Second, it provides that the fact that the Canadian government does not oversee the selling operations of the Canadian Wheat Board increases rather than decreases the probability that the Canadian Wheat Board will act in the commercial interests of the producers. Therefore, the special body concluded that, given the structure of the management of the Canadian Wheat Board, the Board is motivated to maximize the income of the producers whose products it markets.
In other words, the Canadian Wheat Board acts as a corporate selling agent, but within the context of market mechanisms, that is, the law of supply and demand intended to maximize profits. Its aim then is to maximize profits for producers. I believe therefore that the government would do well to take note of the considerations of the dispute settlement body, especially in the area of supply management.
I am going to take the time to go into some detail on this, as it is vital to us in Quebec. In the region I represent, the Lanaudière region, there are a lot of dairy, poultry and egg producers operating under supply management.
As you know, what is interesting about supply management is that its decisions are made by producers and it ensures a continuous supply to processors, fair revenues to producers and high product quality.
There are three pillars that must all be maintained if this is to be accomplished. The first is production planning, which is why it is called supply management. The second pillar consists of a pricing mechanism that ensures a fair income without government subsidies. This is very important. When supply is managed as a function of demand, this ensures proper income and proper prices for the product. There are no government subsidies.
There is a serious problem at the present time and Canada needs to start taking notice of it. At the present time there is a debate under way at the WTO on import duties and, as far as subsidies are concerned, it is a free for all. The Americans and the Europeans are heavily into agricultural subsidies. This disadvantages the developing countries in particular, but Canada as well, since it has decided to place more emphasis on administering its domestic market.
In order to administer that domestic market, a third pillar is needed. This third pillar deals with import quota control. Since the Marrakesh accord, these have been controlled by import tariffs to discourage foreign exporters from entering the Canadian and Quebec markets.
The problem is that the federal Liberal government is guilty of totally unacceptable laxity with respect to this third pillar, despite the statements made over and over again by the Minister of International Trade, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, and the former Minister of International Trade now Minister of Foreign Affairs. Dairy substitutes or products containing dairy substitutes are still being let in.
Last Friday, I gave the example of butter oil. In fact, 49% of dairy products are not covered by the list of commodities subject to quota by Canada. A policy decision absolutely must be made to add butter oils to the definition of dairy products, in order to ensure that these enter our market at rates compatible with supply management and with the third pillar, that is limitation of imports aimed at better coordinating supply and demand.
Even more serious is the fact that the Liberal government seems to be living in a bubble. Despite its rhetoric, it does not notice the extremely important technological changes that now allow us to separate the various components of milk. First, it was lactose, proteins and fat. Now, it is possible to break these by-products down even further and import them as separate products. In a few years, nothing will prevent someone from importing these products to Canada without any restrictions, reconstituting the milk and then selling it on the Canadian and Quebec markets. This undermines the very foundations of the supply management system. That is the problem.
Currently, the WTO does not have any problems with supply management. This is reaffirmed, in a way, in this ruling on the Canadian Wheat Board's practices regarding grain. However, the federal government does not seem to be taking into consideration the new reality of milk substitutes entering the market made up of 49% milk components. Indeed, it is now possible to break milk down into various components that can enter the country almost without being subject to quotas.
As I mentioned earlier, under the Marrakesh agreement, it was decided to substitute import controls. This means that we are now using tariff quotas, instead of import quotas. So, the government must take the necessary steps to change its tariff lines, so that these products are deemed to be, on the one hand, milk products and, on the other hand, products that are subject to the protective tariffs that apply to imports.
I will conclude by providing a very concrete example that would require two changes. In tariff item No. 2106.90.93 and in the following one, instead of saying “containing 50% or more by weight of dairy content”, we should say “containing 10% or more by weight of dairy content”. These products would then be subject to tariff duties of 274.5%, which would allow us to maintain that system.
Again, the only thing preventing us from taking such a measure is the government's lack of will. Let us hope that the federal government will wake up and ensure that our producers, particularly our dairy producers, are better protected.