I thank the minister for telling me where the minister is. I know we are not permitted to say he is not in the House. One thing for sure: he went to Davos and said he wanted to meet with the director general of the WTO himself to revive the Doha round. Reviving it for certain trade agreements is one thing, but putting that instrument back on the table, when it has been discussed and it would jeopardize the supply management system, is cause for concern. The Bloc Québécois will be even more vigilant in this regard.
With regard to the present agreement, we will look closely at what happens. Elimination of the 7% tariff, as provided in this agreement, makes it even more necessary that the government take a firm position at the WTO. Supply management is simply not negotiable. We have to say that and keep saying it. We believe that weakening supply management would justify renegotiating the agricultural agreement with Switzerland.
It should be noted that the part dealing with modified milk proteins, which were debated in the House of Commons not long ago, has also been properly examined. Switzerland is a major producer of modified milk proteins. At present, Swiss products are processed to the point that the tribunals have held that they are not agricultural products. They are therefore not covered by the agricultural accords referred to in Bill C-2. In any event, a schedule to the agreement excludes them completely. So milk proteins are excluded from the accord and tariff rate quotas and over-quota tariffs remain unchanged. In other words, products under supply management are still protected. That is what we currently see in practice and it is what we see in the bill. As I said, we will nonetheless be vigilant when it comes to agriculture, because that is our duty.
There is an interesting aspect to this agreement: it does not make the same mistakes that other Canadian agreements did. For example, NAFTA and the agreements with Costa Rica and Chile—two bilateral agreements—all have a bad chapter on investments, chapter 11, which gives corporations the right to bring proceedings directly against a government if it adopts measures that reduce their profits. The agreement before us, which we have been discussing for several hours, contains no such provisions.
I would like to point out that I worked with a member who was responsible for international trade. I was the deputy globalization critic. Some examples of chapter 11 action were absolutely ridiculous, and they must not be repeated. For example, in Mexico, an American company decided to take a municipality to court because it had adopted a bylaw prohibiting the development of a disposal site. Under chapter 11 of NAFTA, the company argued before the NAFTA tribunal that it would lose profits if not allowed to set up its disposal site at that location.
The municipality was taken to court under chapter 11 of NAFTA. I doubt that that is what the negotiators had in mind during NAFTA talks, but the pernicious effect of that part of chapter 11 led to that kind of completely unacceptable situation.
Fortunately, there is no chapter 11 in Bill C-2. The agreement with the European Free Trade Association covers only goods, not services. Therefore, we will not be forced to open public services to competition, whether provided by the government or not, because they are not included. Also, financial and banking services will not be exposed to competition from Switzerland, which has a very well-known banking system, or Liechtenstein, which is a true haven for the financial world when it comes to taxation and anonymity. None of that is included in this bill.
As my colleague from Sherbrooke just explained during questions and comments, the same is true of government procurement. The government is perfectly free to prefer Canadian suppliers, except as provided in the WTO agreement on government procurement. It would obviously be pretty ridiculous for the government to give itself a certain amount of latitude and then decide not to use it. We therefore want the federal government, which is the largest purchaser of Canadian goods and services, to prefer Canadian suppliers and show some concern for the spinoff effects of its procurement.
There was some discussion of this today in question period. We have to comply with the rules of the World Trade Organization, but there is absolutely nothing to prevent us from favouring local suppliers. The Americans are a problem for us now with their steel, but that is because they are not complying with some of the WTO rules. In other cases, though, when we have an opportunity to prefer our own employers and companies, we should do it and we should not hesitate.
One of the government’s first announcements after the election was the purchase of 1,300 trucks for the Canadian Forces, and the contract was quickly awarded to an American company. In my view, the Quebec company Paccar du Canada Ltée could very easily have filled this kind of order. Under the national security rules, the government could have ensured that such a contract was awarded within Canada. That would not break the WTO rules. We have to be very vigilant about other countries adopting extremely protectionist measures, but at the same time we are perfectly entitled to take steps to favour local suppliers, especially in these times of economic crisis. I cannot see why we would fail to take advantage of this right, especially when we are not contravening the WTO rules.
I spoke a little earlier about our shipyards. We are very concerned about some aspects of them, but we can still agree on a government policy if only the Conservatives would open their eyes and make an effort to ensure that the shipbuilding industry is not penalized too heavily by this bill. We are still concerned, however, about the future of our shipyards.
At present, imported vessels are subject to a 25% tariff. This is a form of protection, of course. However, under the agreement, these tariffs will gradually decrease over three years and will be completely eliminated in 15 years. Nevertheless, the government still has the flexibility to avoid the rocks and reefs that this kind of agreement could present and keep our shipbuilding industry afloat.
Our shipyards are far less modern and in much worse condition than Norwegian shipyards, for example. Norway has made massive investments in modernizing its shipyards, whereas the federal government has completely abandoned ours. If our borders were opened wide tomorrow morning, our shipyards could be wiped off the map. Yet for economic, strategic and environmental reasons, we cannot let our shipyards disappear.
Imagine the risks to Quebec, for instance, if no shipyard could repair vessels that ran aground or broke down in the St. Lawrence, which, I would remind the House, is the world's foremost waterway.
For years the Bloc has been calling for a real marine policy, and for years the government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has been dragging its feet. Now that the agreement has been signed, time is of the essence. We cannot waste any more time, since, as we have already heard, in three years the tariffs will begin diminishing and in 15 years the existing tariffs will be completely eliminated. The Bloc Québécois made a specific recommendation in committee on the matter. The recommendation reads:
The Canadian government must without delay implement an aggressive maritime policy to support the industry, while ensuring that any such strategy is in conformity with Canada's commitments at the WTO.
That was the only recommendation made in the report on that bill, which at the time was numbered C-55, and is now known as Bill C-2.
The Conservative policy of leaving companies to fend for themselves could be disastrous for shipyards, and we expect the government to give up its bad policy. We call on it to table a real policy, by the end of the year, to support and develop the shipbuilding industry. Given the urgency, we will not be content with fine talk, something the government specializes in. We need a real policy that covers all aspects of the industry.
Those are our concerns. There will always be some. As I said, the pros and the cons of any agreement must be weighed. Of course, the four countries we are talking about are not the biggest European economies. However, what is interesting about this free trade agreement is that it could be a foot in the door for an agreement with the European Union. That is the real issue. The Quebec government is currently lobbying and having discussions about a free-trade agreement with the European Union. A free trade agreement with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein is all well and good, but we have to be aware that it is very limited. Together, these four countries represent 12 million people and about 1% of Canada's exports. So, we are not doing the majority of our business with these countries. The real issue is the European Union, with its 495 million inhabitants—that is a much different story—who generate 31% of the world's GDP. The European Union is the strongest economic power in the world.
Since we are very dependent on the United States in matters of trade, this openness to Europe might be a very important alternative for the economy of Quebec and Canada. Canada is altogether too dependent on the United States. We send over 85% of our exports there. The slowdown in the American economy together with the explosive rise of Canadian petrodollars in contrast to the greenback, brings home the fact that our dependency weakens our economy. Quebec has lost over 150,000 manufacturing jobs in five years, including over 80,000 since the arrival of the Conservatives and their laissez-faire doctrine. It is wake-up time. An agreement with the European Union could reduce this trade dependency on the United States.
This vital diversification should not be undertaken first with China or India—countries from which we import eight times and six times respectively what we export to them. The first priority should be the European Union. This is the only way we will be able to diversify our markets and lessen our dependence on the United States. In addition, the fact that Canada has no free trade agreement with the European Union significantly reduces our business competitiveness in the European market.
In conclusion, this is a most important undertaking. The bill has shortcomings, specifically with regard to shipyards, but this can be resolved. There is no reason to ignore all the benefits that might accrue from an agreement with these four European countries, especially since, as I was saying, it could potentially lead to a free trade agreement with the European Union.