moved that Bill C-24, An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour today to speak to the legislation to enable the Government of Canada to implement the softwood lumber agreement reached this past summer with the United States. Softwood lumber for Canadian softwood lumber producers has been an industry that has been plagued by trade disputes, border measures and various types of trade harassment for basically a quarter of a century.
The agreement will provide stability and dispute-free market access to the United States market. It will provide stability for a period of at least eight to nine years. I also believe it will provide a trajectory for the evolution of the softwood lumber industry to a world of complete free trade. This is not unlike what happened in the automotive industry in the 1960s and 1970s where a sector, which was once subject to significant protection, gradually, through a sector specific agreement, evolved into a successful sector that is subject to almost complete free trade today.
I would ask hon. members to consider the softwood lumber agreement, not in the context of whether this is better than or as good as complete free trade. We know the answer to that. What we also know is that complete free trade is not the option that we have before us. It has not been the option for the last 24 years and it is not the option today. We are not one legal victory away from free trade.
In fact, when we look at the softwood lumber industry, it is a highly cyclical industry. We have just been through a very positive part of the cycle. We are now going into a negative part of the cycle where lumber prices will be lower than their normal trend price. During the low part of the cycle, trade actions not only proliferate, they become more robust. In this softwood lumber dispute, we are dealing with not just countervailing duties based on allegations of subsidies of Canadian softwood lumber producers, we are also dealing with anti-dumping duties.
When we get into a weak market, the ability of American protectionists to launch new cases or to raise the duty rates on existing cases, it becomes much more severe, much more difficult and much more problematic. Without this agreement we would be looking at a difficult period of trade litigation over the months and years ahead.
Let us talk about the agreement for a moment and some of the highlights of the agreement. The agreement is long term in nature. It provides for eight to nine years of dispute free trade with the United States. During good lumber markets, which, based on the history of the last 10 years, would be about 50% of the time or maybe a little bit more, we would have complete free trade. There would be no border measures, no quotas and no export taxes.
We are also looking at an agreement that puts much needed cash into the hands of companies, businesses and communities. Under this agreement, 81% of the duties on deposit with the United States would come back to Canadian companies. That is more than 5 billion Canadian dollars coming back into companies at a time when they badly need the cash and badly need to invest in their businesses.
In addition, as a Canadian initiative and as part of the agreement, we have included an accelerated deposit recovery mechanism. Through the Export Development Corporation of Canada, producers will be able to obtain their cash deposit within four to eight weeks of them filing their documents with Export Development Canada. That is compared to a normal time period that could take in excess of six months, possibly more than two years, to recover deposits through the U.S. customs.
The agreement has major exemptions in it. The entire Atlantic Canadian industry would be exempt from any border measures under the agreement which includes dumping duties. As hon. members will know, unlike previous trade disputes, Atlantic Canadian companies, while they have not been subject to countervailing duties, have been subject to dumping duties. Dumping duties are pernicious in weak markets. Dumping duties grow. An administrative review indicates that dumping duties will grow this fall. Even if we continue to win current litigation, that litigation will be appealed. Dumping duties will continue to be applied and Canadian companies, including those in Atlantic Canada, would be subject to continuing trade harassment. The territories, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, are also exempt from the provisions of the agreement, with no border measures there.
A very important part of the agreement is the unprecedented protection of provincial forest policies as a result of the agreement. In the past, what is called anti-circumvention language in past agreements had basically prevented provincial governments from implementing changes in forest policies and, indeed, any measure that a province would take under past agreements that had the effect of reducing timber stumpage, would have been subject to countervail and would have been a circumvention of the last softwood lumber agreement.
In the agreement, those policies are protected. We can in fact have a market based timber pricing system, as has been implemented in British Columbia, that now will be protected. Timber prices can go up when markets are good and timber prices can go down when markets are bad. Timber prices can also reflect conditions such as an export tax, an exchange rate change, hydro rates or any other kind of economic circumstance that changes the value of timber. The agreement protects those policies that allow timber pricing mechanisms to play their role as shock absorbers as we go through the vagaries of the lumber market and those factors which affect it.
The agreement also provides flexibility. In that part of the market when prices are low, the agreement provides provinces with significant flexibility as to how they wish to implement the agreement. In some parts of the country there will be a desire to restrict volume because they are actually reducing their allowable cut for other reasons. In provinces like Quebec, in a weak market they can pay duties no higher than 5% and complement that by reductions in volume shipped into the U.S. market.
In other regions, such as British Columbia, we have the option of not reducing our volume but paying a higher export tax, which is what the province of British Columbia and certain other provinces wanted. They wanted that flexibility built into the agreement and it is built into the agreement. We now have the ability, in different parts of the country where the industry is subject to different factors, to respond quite differently to the circumstances of a weak lumber market.
To the degree that there are export taxes collected, those revenues are not going to go into the U.S. treasury. Those revenues are going to stay here in Canada. They are to go back to the provinces where the lumber originated. Again, this will continue to protect Canadian companies, Canadian governments and Canadian economic interests.
Let us talk about dispute resolution. Many members of the House have spoken about chapter 19 of NAFTA, often critically and with some valid issues to be dealt with over time in regard to chapter 19, but this agreement provides a separate dispute resolution mechanism. That dispute resolution mechanism will deal quickly and in a binding way with issues that come up in the context of this softwood lumber agreement. So again, we have improved our position in terms of dispute resolution.
On termination, we have heard people speak about the need for a termination clause. Some have said we should not have a termination clause. Some have said we should have a long termination clause. We have negotiated in this agreement the best and most secure termination language in any trade agreement that Canada or the United States has.
In fact, one cannot terminate this agreement for 18 months. After 18 months, there must be six months' notice. After the six months' notice there is a 12-month standstill during which no trade action can be brought against Canadian companies. This six months' notice and 12-month standstill will continue through the agreement. At the end of the seventh year, if the United States were not to renew this agreement for the full nine years, the 12-month standstill would continue to apply. In effect, at a minimum, we get eight years of dispute-free trade.
This agreement will evolve. It is not going to be a static agreement.
There are mechanisms built into this agreement that will allow government-to-government committees to work on critical policy issues to improve the agreement, to look at issues like the British Columbia coastal industry and the issue with respect to exports of lumber from logs harvested off private lands. It will deal with issues of running rules to ensure that the agreement operates in a commercially viable manner. And it will give a very clear and immediate focus to what we call off-ramps.
Government-to-government discussions will look at the policy changes that provincial governments can put in place to find relief from the measures included in this softwood lumber agreement. That is a very important part of this agreement, because it will allow the agreement to be improved and to migrate gradually to full free trade over time.
There is also a binational mechanism at the industry level so industry can work together to determine how better to improve the competitiveness and the market position of the North American softwood lumber industry. Again, the analogy to autos or the steel sector, where the sector gradually evolves to full free trade, is readily apparent.
This is an agreement that is good for Atlantic Canada. It will give the provinces of Atlantic Canada full exemption. It will get them away from the threat of dumping duties that are sure to grow and become much more burdensome going forward without this agreement.
This agreement will be good for Quebec. It meets Quebec's needs in terms of the option and the kind of agreement Quebec was seeking to best support its industry. And let us remember that 32 border mills in Quebec will be completely exempt from border measures under this agreement.
Again, Ontario is supportive. There is an option that meets Ontario's needs.
It is the same thing for the Prairies.
British Columbia is very well positioned under this agreement. It is well positioned because the number one issue that British Columbia had was to protect its new regulatory measures for timber pricing and forest management in British Columbia. Those policies have been fully protected under this agreement.
British Columbia is now able to have a market-based timber pricing system. Timber prices will go up and down to reflect the true economics of doing business in the U.S. market. That is something we have never had before.
Remanners will be better off. They will not be charged any duties on the value added portion of their production.
High value producers will be better off because there will be a $500 limit over which duties will not be increased beyond that which would apply to a $500 per 1,000 board foot product.
This is a good deal and it has broad support from both industry and provinces. Over 90% of the industry, when polled in August, said it supported this agreement. Companies are now coming in and working with us. They are very happy with the work we are doing toward implementation of this agreement. They are working with us, not against us. They believe this is an agreement that will enable them to get back to managing their businesses, building their companies, and supporting the communities and the jobs in those communities.
It also clears the table for Canada to get back to doing business in North America, to get back to rectifying some of the issues that need to be addressed in Canada's best interest as we strengthen and improve the workings of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
I would remiss if I did not pay tribute to the people who have worked so hard and have been so dedicated in bringing this agreement about.
Without the Prime Minister's intervention at the very highest levels to set a new tone to make sure that Canada was able to do business in a way that would benefit Canadians, without that new tone, this agreement could not have happened.
It could not have happened without Ambassador Wilson and the good work that he and Claude Carrière in the embassy in Washington did in the negotiation of this agreement.
Ambassador Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, has been very supportive, very helpful and a very constructive participant.
My colleague, the Minister of Industry, has been a very strong contributor to the work that has gone into this agreement.
As for my own staff, my deputy minister, Marie-Lucie Morin, has been a stellar contributor to this agreement. Andrea Lyon in my department has been tireless. She spent her whole spring and her whole summer, right into the fall, doing nothing but this.
The Export Development Corporation of Canada has been stellar in cooperating and providing for an accelerated mechanism for refund of deposits.
I call on members to support this agreement, to support the stability and the ability to grow and develop the softwood lumber industry. Let us get back to business. Let us get back to protecting and creating jobs and getting investment back into the forest industry and all those communities that depend on it.