Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in this House for the first time as the official opposition critic for labour. I look forward to working with members of all parties to ensure that Canada's labour market continues to grow in fairness and prosperity.
In that vein, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on the motion put forward in relation to the protection of Canada's textile and clothing industries.
The textile and clothing industry is clearly in need of support. This motion helps to demonstrate that we in this House recognize this reality.
If we were to look back only 20 years ago, we would see that approximately 70% of the textile and clothing products consumed in this country were actually made in Canada.
However, by 2004, as reported by Statistics Canada, imported goods had come to supply the Canadian market with over 60% of the textiles and clothing consumed in this country. That is an astonishing shift in the marketplace and is a resounding call for action from the Government of Canada.
This is an important sector for Canada and for the major urban centres across the country that have textile and clothing industries as an integral part of their local economies. For example, in my city of Toronto, there are over 550 apparel manufacturers operating and they account for nearly $1.4 billion in wholesale shipments. This represents 16% of the domestic market in this country.
Perhaps more important than the dollar figures are the numbers of people in the city of Toronto who work in the textile and clothing sector. An estimated 50,000 people work in this sector, with more than half of them employed in the manufacturing side of this equation. These jobs include cutters, sewers, pressers, art directors and so forth. These are jobs that we need in Toronto and in cities across the country. They are jobs that need to be protected.
The Montreal textile and clothing sector is a very important player in the region's economy and is recognized internationally as a major pole of this sector of activity.
The reality, as already mentioned by many members, is that the international business environment has changed considerably over the years.
Beginning in the early 1970s and continuing until the middle of the 1990s, the trade in textiles and clothing was quite closely regulated via a system of import quotas put in place by major importers and exporters of these materials.
Countries such as China and India were the subject of agreements with Canada, and these quotas, known as the multi-fibre arrangement, continued until the member countries of the World Trade Organization voted to remove all these quotas at the Uruguay round of negotiations. This was to be undertaken in four separate stages from 1995 through 2005.
We must add to this the reality of the 1989 free trade agreement with the United States, which saw the importation of American products grow very rapidly. This continued until 1999, when there was a shift toward the importation of goods from China and, to a lesser extent, India.
This shift was a direct result of the removal of quotas on goods originating outside of Canada. Consequently, there was of course a significant impact upon Canada's textile and clothing industry and upon the companies that manufactured them, as well as the employees who worked for them.
In terms of numbers, the growth from China is quite dramatic. In the textile sector, China was exporting to Canada $800 million in goods by the year 2004. The clothing sector is even more dramatic, with China's share of the Canadian market moving from $571 million in 1992 to $2.3 billion in the year 2004.
These are significant numbers, especially when we consider the substantially reduced costs faced by Chinese manufacturers compared to their Canadian counterparts. This reality is particularly noteworthy in terms of labour costs.
China, of course, is the most important player in terms of the export to Canada of textiles and clothing, but there are other countries. India has already been mentioned. There has also been an impact on Canada's market due to imports from Mexico.
We must add to this the reality that the biggest trade partner of Canada's textile and clothing products, the United States, has followed Canadian suppliers in turning its attention abroad for cheaper products. This reduced share of the American market also significantly affects Canada's textile and clothing industry.
The previous Liberal government did take action in this matter, as indicated by my colleague, the former member for Ahuntsic, the honourable Eleni Bakopanos, during a debate on the issue. She spoke of the work accomplished by the Liberal government, mainly through public-private partnerships, to help these industries face the challenges of the new global economy.
A number of measures were considered, including lowering customs duties on imported textiles used by the Canadian clothing industry.
My Liberal colleagues from the Montreal area vigorously and effectively defended the textile and clothing industries in their respective ridings.
The member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, home to many textile and clothing manufacturers, was a particularly energetic advocate for this industry.
The motion at hand calls for “a policy of assistance to the textile and clothing industries in order to enable the industries to compete throughout the world”. I am in full agreement with the spirit of supporting our textile and clothing sectors.
While we all recognize that there are new realities in terms of global economic development, it is essential that we as a country recognize through public policy the obligation of the Government of Canada to protect industries that provide a means of livelihood to so many Canadian workers.
I understand that there are many people within the industry who identify tariff policy as a means of protecting Canada's textile and clothing sector. Although these tariffs are among the highest in terms of other sectors, this is still very much worthy of review in regard to the unique nature of this industry and its importance to our national economy.
Similarly, I believe there is a great deal that the federal government and provincial governments across Canada can do to assist the textile and clothing sector, including training programs, export assistance and simple advocacy.
The member's motion also speaks specifically to the idea of allowing foreign made products made with Canadian textiles and clothing products to be imported without customs duties. This trade procedure is known as outward processing, and I believe that this indeed has the potential to be of great assistance to the textile and clothing industry in Canada.
In cooperation with the various partners within the Canadian textile and clothing industry, the government needs to move promptly in terms of outward processing, in conjunction with Canadian producers. It is my understanding that both the United States government and the European Union have already taken practical implementation steps in terms of outward processing on behalf of their textile and clothing sectors.
As members of the House are aware, during the last Parliament the members who now comprise the government voted against the original motion dealing with this matter. I would encourage these members to join with the other parties in the House in support of this important motion.
As noted at the beginning of my remarks, there are phenomenal pressures on Canada's textile and clothing industries. The textile and clothing sector is a significant player in our national economy and, like other governments across the world, we have an obligation to assist these Canadian businesses and workers to compete effectively in the new global economy.
Quite frankly, it is clear that no sector of our economy operates within a vacuum. Jobs lost in one sector will invariably affect another and the ripple will continue.
The textile and clothing sector has experienced considerable pressure over the last 25 years. When those Canadians employed in this industry look to their government for assistance, it is important that their voices do not go unanswered.
I intend to support the motion. I encourage all other members, regardless of their party affiliation, to vote with Canadian workers in the textile and clothing industry by voting in favour of the motion.