Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this extremely important bill, the Canada-EFTA free trade agreement, an agreement that Canada would have with Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
This is part of a trend, of which most of us in the House have been supportive, to increase bilateral trade, to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers and to improve labour mobility. We have found historically that the removal of these barriers has a pronounced improvement in the productivity and health and welfare of our own people. More people have jobs in our country. The standard of living has risen. More money is in people's pockets as a result of removing these barriers.
Our country is a trading nation. The number of people in our country is simply not sufficient for us to produce at a reasonable cost the types of things that all our citizens want and need.
If we were to turn the tables on that and say why not increase protectionism, why not raise barriers around our nation, we have found historically that it would be worse for our country. Sometimes this might be a little counterintuitive. The erection of barriers actually increases the cost of products here at home and reduces the number of people who are employed. It increases unemployment.
What we all want to make sure, though, is that any trade agreement that we have with other countries enables us to have fair trade and that tariff and non-tariff barriers cannot be surreptitiously introduced under the table.
The Liberal Party will support sending this bill to committee so that we can work with our colleagues across party lines to ensure that this agreement that would enable us to improve trade with those four European countries will be fair for the Canadian consumer and for the Canadian worker. That is our end goal.
We have a remarkable opportunity to be the conduit between the two major largest trading blocs in the world, the European Union and North America. If Canada could be in that place, and this agreement enables us to do that, imagine what it would do for our country. It would increase employment, increase the amount of money in Canadians' pockets, reduce unemployment and ultimately improve the health and welfare of our citizens.
We also have an opportunity at this moment, in our unique place, to add different elements to the trade agreement that have sometimes been neglected. I refer to things such as workers' safety, workers' benefits, working conditions and environmental protection. All of those things can sometimes be fudged in these agreements. Some countries, as part of the agreements, can have an unfair trade advantage by not providing their workers with a safe working environment or a fair wage, or by not having the environmental protection that all of us know is needed.
In fact, the absence of that could not only hurt the workers but it could have transborder effects. Imagine the effects caused by some countries that engage in behaviours that damage the environment. Environmental damage crosses borders and other countries, including our own, can be affected. For example, in those countries that made up the former Soviet Union, there was production of nuclear materials. In Siberia, in Russia, those nuclear materials were simply dumped on the ground. The result is that those radioactive materials, which have long lives, have ended up in the food chain, which knows no borders. Those radioactive materials have actually ended up in the food chain in the Arctic and are actually being consumed by the Inuit in the north. As a result, people living in the north have very high concentrations of cancer-causing, long-acting toxic materials in their bodies.
In fact, with regard to some of the flora and fauna in those areas and in particular the large mammal species, a whale that washes up on shore would be considered a toxic material. The whales have been consuming animal products that have themselves consumed products further down the food chain, through which there is a bioaccumulation of toxic materials.
My point is that it behooves all of us to ensure that we have proper protection for workers and the environment in the trade agreements we sign. This is an opportunity for us to do so.
As an overview, trade has actually increased over the last 10 to 15 years by a factor of 6% per year. This is double the rate of the increase in global output, which is actually having quite a significant impact upon the global financial architecture of what we see here today. We also know that tariffs have come down. In the 1980s the rate was about 25%. Today tariff barriers are about 10%, and that is a good thing.
The World Trade Organization has had a role to play in that. However, one of the central points I want to make is that while we have come a long way, there is a significant failure in our ability to enforce the agreements that are already there. The rules that bind us in part are based on mutual trust. Countries mutually trust each other. There are rules.
Part of the problem, as is the case in most international agreements, is that there is not an adequate enforcement mechanism. In other words, there is protection without enforcement. In fact, the enforcement mechanism enables some countries to abuse their positions in a way that actually harms those of us who are playing by the rules.
I will give a few examples. Let us take a look at some of the urgent situations we have in the world today.
In terms of food insecurity, we see a rising cost of food products. For various reasons, huge swaths of our world actually have food insecurity. Some of those areas have chronic food insecurity, while some of the areas of insecurity occur from time to time.
The issue, though, is that we have the capabilities and technology to prevent a lot of that food insecurity. Part of this food insecurity exists simply because the trade agreements that we have right now enable things to occur that should not.
One example is biofuels. There has been a headlong rush to produce biofuels. That rush to biofuels has changed land that normally produces things like sour gum, wheat and other pulse products. Producers have taken away the products that people consume. What are they doing? They are growing corn, and it is not corn for consumption, but corn for the production of biofuels.
That change has not only raised the price of foodstuffs because there has been a diminishment of land available for food production, but it has also done something rather perverse: when corn is used for biofuel production, the actual energy output we get is smaller than the energy inputs. On the surface it may seem fine to want to produce biofuels because we are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels, but in fact it is actually environmentally hazardous, because the fossil fuel inputs--and we do require them to produce the corn--are greater than the energy savings that we get at the other end. Also, corn as a source of biofuels is not a very efficient organic product to use for energy.
As well, we are changing to biofuel production on land that would normally be used for food products, resulting in a decrease in food availability.
The situation becomes even worse. In one of the lungs of the planet, Amazonia, pristine rain forests are being destroyed as a result of land now being used for the production of corn to produce biofuels. As a result we have a carbon sink that is actually being damaged and destroyed. That carbon sink, which would normally take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, is reduced, which is making global warming worse.
Clearly many factors are involved, so one of the things we have to do in our trade agreements is make sure there are no perversions or distortions that can be used to make our environment and economy worse and our energy situation more insecure.
Along those lines, one of our great challenges is to link up trade with energy policy. No one has been able to do that. I believe that because we are a net exporter of fossil fuels, we have an extraordinary and very important opportunity to be able to link up energy policy with trade policy. If we are able to link energy policy with trade policy, we will be able to grapple with one of the central challenges of our time, global warming.
This is particularly important, now more than ever, because we are getting into a very dangerous period.
We have feedback loops in our planet. As carbon dioxide is produced, carbon sinks in nature--oceans, wetlands and forests--normally absorb the carbon dioxide. The challenge is that when we destroy the wetlands and forests, the absorptive capacity of that carbon dioxide decreases, and temperature goes up. When the temperature goes up, the absorptive capacity of the oceans, one of the major carbon sinks, diminishes, resulting in more carbon dioxide.
This has a huge impact for us in the north, where we have permafrost. A lot of methane is currently underground and is not doing too much, but when the permafrost melts, it releases the methane. The methane has a capacity 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide to increase the temperature of our planet. Members can imagine what that means: the temperature increases, the permafrost melts, and methane is released in massive amounts into the environment. There is a geometric increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the products that cause global warming. Now we have this vicious feedback, as can be seen.
That absolutely has to be dealt with. One can see the connection between deforestation, rising temperatures and the destruction of wetlands.
Here is an idea our government may wish to pursue. We pay people to plant trees. It takes about 25 to 50 years for a tree to become sizable. The larger it is, the greater its capacity to absorb greenhouse gases.
Now let us imagine we actually paid people not to cut down trees. Why on earth are we paying people to grow little trees instead of enabling the preservation of our forests and wetlands? The current size of the forests and wetlands will have a larger absorptive capacity than these small saplings that will take 25 to 50 years to grow.
The Copenhagen conference is going to take place later on this year. We have an opportunity to think differently about dealing with global warming and to preserve our wetlands and our large forest tracts, which are major sinks for carbon dioxide. We cannot wait a generation to address this question. We have it within our hands now. I would implore our government to look at things differently at the Copenhagen conference and find ways that we can pay for preservation, particularly of critical habitats.
Cameroon made this proposal about a year ago. They have an important tract in west Africa between two contiguous areas of important reserves. The area in between is a pristine habitat and a major carbon sink. They came up with the idea of leasing this land for a dollar an acre. The Cameroonian government was willing to do that.
That kind of innovative thinking enables the world to invest money into areas that will benefit people. It also enables us to prevent these tracts of land from being cut and knocked down, which has a deleterious effect on our environment.
I also want to talk about the need for Bretton Woods 2.
As I mentioned before, one of the major reasons for today's financial crisis is a failure of the global financial architecture. While there are certain rules in the global financial architecture, those rules have not changed or modernized to deal with the rapidly changing international economies and the interdependence that we now have. In fact, that is the basis of the bill we are talking about today.
Because we are a country that stands on the cusp of the two greatest trading blocs in the entire world, we have an opportunity to present a proposal for a Bretton Woods 2 that would enable the International Monetary Fund, for example, to be able to have the teeth and the enforcement mechanism that are necessary for us to have a free and fair trading system.
I know our friends in the NDP rightly talk about the need for fair trade. Here is an opportunity for us to be able to do that and to deal, as I said before, with how workers are treated, with their health and working conditions, and to have the ability to factor environment into the agreements we sign. Those are the kinds of things we need to deal with. In fact those are the things that a Bretton Woods 2 institutional complex has to address.
One of the big challenges, of course, is an enforcement mechanism. Right now certain countries do various things that, to put a kind comment on it, are underhanded, and I could say other things.
Let me give an example. In China, the yuan is undervalued between 20% and 60%. The ability of China to be keep its currency at a level that is 20% to 60% below our currency gives China an unfair advantage in its ability to export. Our products become relatively non-competitive because of that huge advantage China has through artificially keeping its currency below what it ought to be.
What is needed is a mechanism to prevent countries from engaging in those non-tariff barriers that slide underneath the financial architecture but give a very clear advantage to their own producers. That cannot happen. Our producers, our workers, our companies and our economy suffer as a direct result of that kind of behaviour.
Right now there is no effective mechanism to do that. We also know that when complaints happen, they do not happen in a timely fashion. They can take two or three years or more. We have had that experience in our lumber disputes with the United States.
The government has a real opportunity here to work with the rest of us to have a concerted effort internationally to change and reframe the international architecture and make sure that the financial architecture of today reflects the integrated economies that we see today, economies that were not envisioned at the time Bretton Woods was actually put together after World War II. It is important to understand that after World War II, the financial architecture we have today had not been envisioned. It is very important for that to take place.
I also want to talk about an issue that is very much at the forefront of our newspapers today, the issue of Canada-U.S. trade and President Obama's protectionist inclinations.
We have to make it crystal clear that those kinds of behaviours and barriers contributed in part to the Great Depression in the 1930s. If we fail to do that, they are going to hurt their country and they are going to hurt our country. Everybody is going to get hurt. That kind of behaviour sets up a vicious cycle, and nobody wins.
The Liberal Party will support sending the bill to committee. We want to make it better. We have some great people on our side with great ideas. They will work in committee to ensure the bill will benefit Canadian workers, the Canadian economy and the Canadian environment to ensure Canada can be as competitive as we know our great workers can be in the changing international architecture of 2009.