Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-24, the Canada-Peru free trade agreement implementation act. The bill seeks to implement the free trade agreement, the agreement on labour co-operation and the agreement on the environment entered into by Canada with the Republic of Peru on May 29, 2008.
The bill is extremely important to Canada's agriculture sector. While the agreement has potential for many of our farm products, it is critical to our wheat and durum industries, to our pulse and specialty crop industries, to beef and to pork and to potatoes. We know about the tremendous potatoes that come from the province of Prince Edward Island. I can see my colleague from Manitoba is jealous of the kind of potatoes we produce in Prince Edward Island, and I understand why.
Before I get into all the reasons why this is so important to farmers, there is a point I would like to raise on corporate social responsibility.
My colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood earlier raised the point. Peru is cited in the strategy of the Government of Canada on corporate social responsibility for the Canadian international extractive sector. Peru is also cited as a country where the Canadian International Development Agency has worked extensively with the government, mining companies and affected communities to develop and promote regulatory requirements for social and environmental management.
The Canada-Peru FTA also includes corporate social responsibility provisions encouraging the promotion of principles and of responsible business, and that is an important point to make. We feel very strongly about corporate social responsibility and we have some very grave concerns about the trade agreement with Colombia. However, on this side of the House, we believe Peru is doing much better.
On the human rights side, it is clear that some human rights issues remain in Peru. In its 2008 report, Amnesty International recognized that important steps had been taken to bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations during the years of armed conflict between 1980 and 2000. In terms of violent crime in Peru, the country's homicide rate now stands at 5.7 per hundred thousand, which is still too high, but it is among the lowest in South America. Those are some steps forward.
I know there will be some who will say that human rights are still a concern and we understand that. However, when the agreement is settled with Peru, I would encourage the Government of Canada to continue its emphasis in discussions about good human rights standards to ensure that CIDA does its part in Peru as well.
I believe we can do both. We can improve trade to the benefit of both countries, the citizens of Canada and the citizens of Peru. We can also improve human rights in the Republic of Peru for the benefit of Peru and certainly the globe.
I might mention as well that there are side agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, and that is important. I will agree with my NDP colleague, however, that it would better if they were encompassed in the agreement as a whole rather than being in side agreements, but it is a step forward. More and more we see the United States negotiating agreements that include the environment and labour as part of those agreements.
If environment and labour are not part of those agreements, we are allowing people and industries in other countries to abuse the environment. We give them a competitive advantage. We allow them to undermine labour standards and give their countries and those industries a labour, wage or benefit advantage. That is not what we want to see happen. We have to bring up the standard globally and that is what we must work toward.
There is certainly economic risk if we do not ratify this agreement, especially as it relates to the agriculture sector. Since 2005, Peru has concluded free trade agreements with the United States, Chile, Thailand, Singapore and the Mercosur region, which is Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The United States Congress has ratified the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement. In fact, that just entered into force on February 1 of this year.
If Canada fails to implement a Canada-Peru free trade agreement, Canadian businesses will be at an economic disadvantage compared to their foreign competitors. One stark example of this concern is the export of wheat. We produce wheat in abundance in our country. We have one of the greatest selling agencies in the world, the Canadian Wheat Board, which the government hates to admit.
The wheat exports of the United States have recently benefited from the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement, immediately receiving duty-free treatment. Without a free trade agreement, Canada's exports of wheat, which comprise 38% of Canada's total exports to Peru, will continue to face a 17% tariff. This would place Canadian wheat at a very substantial disadvantage. We cannot allow those negative consequences to happen by opposing this agreement.
Let me turn to why the agreement is so important for Canadian farmers. Perhaps the best way for me to do that is to turn to the presentations that farm leaders have presented to either government or parliamentary committees.
I will turn first to a letter by Larry Hill. He is the president of the Canadian Wheat Board. In his letter to the chair of the Standing Committee on International Trade, he said:
It's important that the legislation is passed in a timely manner so as to avoid western Canadian farmers being placed at a disadvantage into this important Latin American market.
Wheat and durum are Canada's number one export to Peru. Under the agreement, Canadian wheat, durum and barley will receive tariff-free access upon implementation. While there is currently no tariff, applied tariffs have historically averaged 15%. The tariff was temporarily removed during last year's high price period, but is likely to be reinstated now that prices are declining.
Mr. Hill went on to say:
Peru is a key, fast-growing Latin American market for western Canadian farmers. CWB exports to Peru average 410,000 tonnes of wheat and 18,400 tonnes of barley annually. In 2008, Canadian sales were worth $134 million Cdn for wheat and barley farmers.
In February 2009, the U.S. and Peru implemented a Trade Promotion Agreement, resulting in guaranteed tariff-free access for American wheat and barley into Peru. Without a similar agreement, Canadian wheat and barley will be placed at a real commercial disadvantage, likely resulting in lost sales. It is imperative that the Canadian agreement be implemented prior to Peru reinstating its tariffs.
In that letter, Mr. Hill mentions how important the market is and the amount of wheat that we export into that country.
I was in Ecuador a number of years ago and spoke with the president of Bonita Bananas. Ecuador is a big importer of Canadian hard red spring wheat mainly. He told me that Ecuador imported somewhere around $72 million of Canadian wheat on average each year.
The United States signed an agreement with Ecuador and to a great extent we have been displaced from that market. We cannot afford to lose that market. Our most important market, as we consistently tell the government, is the market that we have. We have to maintain that market.
There are concerns from some agricultural producers that Canada was unable to secure the same favourable conditions in tariff reductions as the United States, particularly in beef and pork products. Still, even Canadian beef and pork producers want us to ratify the Canada-Peru FTA as they believe that imperfect tariff reductions are better than no tariff reductions at all.
Even with these concerns, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture spelled out the concerns and benefits. He did that best when he was before the Standing Committee on International Trade on May 7. I would like to quote a few of his remarks, because he sums it up certainly better than I could in my words. Laurent Pellerin, the president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said:
--I would like to say that this agreement should be implemented as quickly as possible. It is not a huge achievement with regard to the objectives of agricultural producers, but some improvements are worth implementing.
We are negotiating this agreement more or less at the same time as the United States, or a bit later. We believe, however, that we must negotiate parity with the United States in future negotiations or free trade agreements and contracts with countries like Peru. Unfortunately, in the case of Peru, Canada is far from achieving the same thing as the United States. We recognize that the Peruvian market is probably more significant for the United States than it is for Canada, but all the same, parity would have been a very desirable goal.
It is too bad that the American negotiators perhaps negotiated a little tougher than our negotiators. In any event, it is a step forward. He went on to say:
In the case of Peru, the United States will have shorter tariff elimination periods, and in some cases, tariff-free access, and in others higher quotas. Even if Canada negotiated something better than our current conditions, because the Americans negotiated tariff reductions and completely free access before us, the market or business will favour American products over ours. This is something we must bear in mind.
He went on to talk about the beef industry. Again I will quote his remarks because he is the representative of the industry and his words bear merit. He talked about how important the Peruvian market is for beef and pork, but that again, the Americans have a substantial advantage. He said:
A great deal of fresh, chilled and frozen beef offal is traded between Canada and Peru. In this sector, the tariffs will be eliminated simultaneously for both Canada and the United States, but it should be noted that the quota or volume exported by the United States is twice as large as Canada's. So once again, the agreement will favour the U.S. market.
In the long term, both Canada and the United States will achieve duty-free access for pork carcasses and cuts. However, in the short and medium term, the agreement is definitely more favourable for the Americans and could seriously affect the products from Canada because there again, the tariffs on U.S. pork will be eliminated by the beginning of the 5th year, whereas for Canada they will not be eliminated until the 17th year.
He went on to state:
Still in the pork sector, the quota for cuts in the offal category, including pig fat and bellies, will start at 325 tonnes per year and increase to 504 tonnes in year 10. Once again, these are not large quantities. However, the Canadian Pork Council has told us that this agreement must be supported, since a deal with slightly increasing quotas is better than no deal at all with a risk of retaliation. They agree with these measures.
In other words, the Canadian Pork Council agrees.
Mr. Pellerin went on to say, “Canada is extremely present on the potato market as well”, an area that I am certainly most familiar with. He said, “Duty-free access strongly favours the United States over Canada, particularly during the first nine years”. I must remind my friend from Manitoba again that when I am talking about potatoes, Prince Edward Island still remains the biggest potato producer. That small province remains the biggest potato producer in this country. This is very important to us in Prince Edward Island.
Mr. Pellerin went on to say:
Tariffs on fresh and chilled potatoes, other than seed, will be eliminated immediately for the United States. As for tariffs on Canadian potatoes, they are subject to a gradual reduction and will be eliminated as of year 10. There again, our small Peruvian market may be replaced by American products, which will be more competitive because they will have duty-free access.
My point is this. Yes, the agreement is important but even with this trade agreement that the Canadian government has negotiated with Peru and the implementation act that we are talking about in the House, the Americans, it is sad to say, still have advantages in that market. Yes, it is a step forward, but it is not as big a step as we would certainly like to see.
The last point raised by Mr. Pellerin concerned frozen potatoes. He said, “I don't need to name the large Canadian companies in this sector, because you already know them”. They would be McCain, Cavendish, et cetera. He said:
Canada is very active on this market as well, and Canadian potato farmers count on this market, especially the frozen french fry market. If the agreement is signed, tariffs on frozen potatoes from the United States will be eliminated immediately, whereas the tariffs on Canadian potatoes will be eliminated gradually, reaching zero in year 10 of the agreement. This market could potentially be attractive for Canada, but you will understand that over the next 10 years, the United States will have a major competitive advantage in the potato sector, and so this is not a major gain for Canada.
All that to say, yes, certainly the agreement is important. It is very important especially to the agricultural industry in Canada, wheat and durum, beef and pork, pulse and specialty crops and certainly potatoes. But even with the agreement the Canadian government has failed to negotiate the same advantages as the Americans have negotiated. That is a sad commentary.
The Canada-Peru free trade agreement is certainly supported by a lot of the agricultural industries, and I mentioned the Canadian Wheat Board, pulse growers, et cetera. It is also supported by quite a number of business groups, such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and resource organizations such as the Mining Association of Canada.
A reduction in Peru's tariffs could certainly contribute toward increasing the competitiveness of Canadian exports, whether they are industrial goods or agricultural goods.
Therefore, the Canada-Peru free trade agreement is a step forward. As I said in the beginning, in corporate social responsibility, the safeguards are there. The labour and human rights issues are improving. For those reasons the bill is an important bill and I welcome it in the House.