Mr. Speaker, I am glad to join with my colleagues in denouncing this bill which will have long-term implications for the workers of this country. It is a bill which further commits Canada to a free trade agenda when what we should really be pursuing is a fair trade agenda.
I find it interesting that we are continuing to negotiate these types of trade deals given the difficulty we have had recently with the rise in protectionism, particularly from the U.S., our biggest trading partner and close signatory in the North American free trade agreement. It can be argued that we are the poor cousin in that arrangement, bringing only concessions to the table and having to live with the whims of our partners. We are seeing this with respect to iron and steel procurement in the U.S. stimulus package.
We have also witnessed the long struggle to get an acceptable softwood lumber agreement with our American partners. In northern Ontario we are particularly aware of the failure of successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative, to protect an industry that goes to the heart of our economy. In northern Ontario we have watched the trend in the softwood industry as workers are being asked for concessions, mills are shutting down and those lucky enough to still have jobs in the forestry sector are not confident those jobs will be there in the future.
It is not because of a crisis in confidence of our products, work ethics or the future of the resource. It is because these people recognize that they are working within the confines of a flawed agreement that does little to protect jobs here in Canada.
In my riding, there was the loss of 120 jobs at the Haavalsrud mill in Hornepayne, the closing for four weeks of the Tembec mill in Kapuskasing and its announcement yesterday of lay-offs in Hearst, not to mention the concessions that Columbia Forest Products in Hearst tried to obtain from its workers. All these events have an immediate impact on our small towns.
Forgive me if I fail to see the silver lining in this latest free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association, comprised of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Although we are the larger partner in this agreement, at least in terms of population, once again we are conceding ground and making it difficult to ensure the future survival of important national industries.
I am talking about our shipbuilding industry now. We are entering into an agreement that will all but guarantee that our shipbuilding industry continues to contract and loses ground to foreign producers. This trade agreement will reduce tariffs on ships from 25% to zero in a period of 10 to 15 years, depending on the type of ship.
The main source of competition for shipbuilding will be Norway. Norway has pursued a long-term industrial strategy for shipbuilding. It has a state-of-the-art yard that has been subsidized and is well established. Canada does not. We do not have an industrial policy for shipbuilding and the infrastructure in the yards we do have is not state-of-the-art. Canadian yards are not on a level playing field as we set them loose to compete under the terms of this agreement.
I would be remiss to go on any further without mentioning the good work of my colleague, the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. Had governments listened to his call for improvements in Canadian shipbuilding capacity, we would not be voicing many of our concerns today. We would be entering into this agreement on a level playing field and be able to compete not only with Norway but Japan, Korea and any of the best shipbuilding yards in the world. Sadly, his repeated call for a shipbuilding industrial strategy has been ignored, and we in the NDP are forced to fight on behalf of the remnants of this once proud industry to ensure it does not simply vanish.
I would also like to echo the sentiments of my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River. I too am appalled that not one ship is being built in the Thunder Bay shipyard, not now or even in the past year, yet at the same time we are moving ahead with an agreement that will forever hamstring this industry. It is inconceivable that we would like to merely walk away from these good jobs in a time when we are meant to be moving heaven and earth to protect jobs in Canada.
It does not end with shipbuilding though. Our concerns go beyond that. There are serious implications for our agricultural sector in this agreement as well. The provisions within the agreement concerning agriculture defer to the World Trade Organization principles and dispute mechanisms, which will have a very negative impact on supply management by weakening Canada's position. The NDP opposes these WTO mechanisms and has strong concerns about their effect on our domestic agriculture capacity.
Terry Pugh, the executive secretary of the National Farmers Union, told the Standing Committee on International Trade in April of 2008:
--the most critical and highly negative aspect of this deal...is its impact on supply management, for example, in the dairy industry. It's true that our access commitments remain in place for imports of certain commodities, as specified under the WTO agreement, but the tariff rates on some of those imports have been dramatically lowered, some of them to the point of elimination entirely.
He points out that butter coming into Canada in shipments of under 4,000 tonnes has a 7% tariff. Under this deal, that 7% goes down to 0%. The amount that is coming in stays the same but the tariff rate is actually reduced. That just opens up Canadian markets to offshore products, and every time we do that, we shut Canadian producers out of their own domestic market. Is that not a shame? It might be free trade but it certainly is not fair trade.
We have standards in Canada and our dairy farmers are demanding. They work hard and they deliver a safe product through reliable supply routes, operating under a supply management system that ensures as much.
They operate under the basic tenets of fair trade. These are commitments to health and safety, respect for human rights, worker rights and right to assembly. They operate in good faith. That is more than can be said about a government that rushes through trade agreements just to be seen to be doing something, a government that has made promises on icebreakers, the Arctic patrol vessel and the joint support ship project, none of which are moving ahead despite the fact that they could all be done in Canada.
I would like to quote Andrew McArthur of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada and Irving Shipbuilding who appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade on April 2, 2008. I know it has been mentioned a few times in the House already, but I think it is important that we keep hammering away at it. He said:
So our position from day one has been that shipbuilding should be carved out from the trade agreement. We butted our heads against a brick wall for quite a number of years on that and we were told there is no carve-out. If the Americans, under the Jones Act, can carve out shipbuilding from NAFTA and other free trade agreements, as I believe the Americans are doing today with Korea, or have done, why can Canada not do the same? [...] We have to do something to ensure shipbuilding continues. The easiest thing is to carve it out from EFTA. And if you do one thing, convince your colleagues in government to extend the ship financing facility, make it available to Canadian owners in combination with the accelerated capital cost allowance, and you will have as vibrant an industry as exists.
In closing, I would like to remind the government that this agreement threatens Canadian industry and agriculture. This agreement sets adrift, perhaps forever, our shipbuilding history and its industry. It could also have dire consequences on dairy producers and should be reviewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.